Carnegie Failed Twice Before Bessemer Success

(p. 101) [Carnegie] . . . organized his own company to secure the rights to the Dodd process for strengthening iron rails by coating them with steel facings. Thomson agreed to appropriate $20,000 of Pennsylvania Railroad funds to test the new technology.
On March 12, 1867, Thomson wrote to tell Carnegie that his Dodd-processed rails had failed their first test: “treatment under the hammer…. You may as well abandon the Patent–It will not do if this Rail is a sample.” Three days later, Thomson wrote Carnegie again, this time marking his letter with a handwritten “Private” in the top left-hand corner and “a word to the wise” penned in just below. Carnegie had apparently asked Thomson for more time–and/or money–to continue his experiments. Thomson replied that the experiments his engineers had made had so “impaired my confidence in this process that I don’t feel at liberty to increase our order for these Rails.”
Instead of giving up, Carnegie pushed forward, hawking his new steel-faced iron rails to other railroad presidents, attempting to get a new contract with Thomson, and reorganizing the Freedom Iron Company in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, in which he was a major investor, into Freedom Iron and Steel. In the spring of 1867, he succeeded, despite Thomson’s misgivings, in getting the approval to manufacture and deliver a second 500-ton batch of steel-faced rails. The new rails fared as poorly as the old ones. There would be no further contracts forthcoming from the Pennsylvania Railroad or any other railroad.
Carnegie tried to bluff his way through. When his contacts in England recommended that he purchase the American rights to a better process for facing iron rails with steel, this one invented by a Mr. Webb, Carnegie retooled his mill for the new process. He was fooled a second time. Not only was the Webb process as impractical as the Dodd, but there was, as there (p. 102) had been with the Dodd process, confusion as to who held the American patent rights. Within a year, the company Carnegie had organized to produce the new steel-faced rails was out of business.
. . .
These early failures did not deter him from investing in other start-up companies and technologies, but he would in future be a bit more careful before committing his capital. In March 1869, Tom Scott solicited his advice about investing in the rights to a new “Chrome Steel process.” Carnegie replied that his “advice (which don’t cost anything if of no value) would be to have nothing to do with this or any other great change in the manufacture of steel or iron…. I know at least six inventors who have the secret all are so anxiously awaiting…. That there is to be a great change in the manufacture of iron and steel some of these years is probable, but exactly what form it is to take no one knows. I would advise you to steer clear of the whole thing. One will win, but many lose and you and I not being practical men would very likely be among the more numerous class. At least we would wager at very long odds. There are many enterprises where we can go in even.”

Source:
Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.
(Note: bracketed name, ellipsis near start, and ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipsis internal to other paragraphs, in original.)
(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw’s book are the same.)

Malcolm Gladwell, on Harvard, Rings True to Debbie Sterling

SterlingDebbieGoldieBlox2013-12-29.jpg

Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox entrepreneur. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 2) Debbie Sterling is the founder and chief executive of GoldieBlox, a toy company dedicated to encouraging girls’ interest in engineering and construction.

READING I just started “David and Goliath,” by Malcolm Gladwell. He has some really interesting statistics about how at the top-tier universities like Stanford and Harvard, freshmen who go into engineering often fall out versus if those same students had gone to a second-tier school, they would have been in the top of their class and therefore would have stayed in. It really spoke to me because I was definitely one of those engineering students at Stanford who constantly felt like I was surrounded by geniuses. I was intimidated, but I stayed because I am just so stubborn.

For the full interview, see:
KATE MURPHY, interviewer. “DOWNLOAD; Debbie Sterling.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., December 22, 2013): 2.
(Note: bold in original, indicating that what follows are the words of Debbie Sterling.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date December 21, 2013.)

Book that “spoke to” Sterling:
Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

The Law-Breaking Entrepreneur as “Savior”

(p. A11) This is a simple lesson in free-market economics, provided courtesy of the harsh winter weather of recent days in the eastern half of the U.S. Coincidentally, the annual meetings of the American Economic Association were scheduled to take place in Philadelphia, from Jan. 3-6. My friend and colleague, Haizheng Li, flew in to Philadelphia late in the evening of Thursday, Jan. 2, landing around 10:45. As he later told me, by then it was snowing heavily. Because of backed-up air traffic, the pilot was not able to park at their arrival gate for 40 minutes. After de-planing, Haizheng waited for another 40 minutes to retrieve his luggage.
. . .
Haizheng and a number of other passengers were facing the grim prospect of an uncomfortable night at the airport. The food vendors were all closed. Haizheng was tired and hungry–and he was scheduled to make a presentation at 8 the next morning.
Unexpectedly, out of the night came a savior. A man walked through baggage claim asking whether any of the recently arrived passengers needed transportation to one of the downtown hotels. Haizheng didn’t ask what the ride might cost, he just said yes. As it turned out, the man took six stranded passengers, plus luggage, to their hotels for $25 each.
No doubt in doing so he broke at least one, probably several, laws regarding passenger transport that are designed to prop up the local taxi cartel. Yet this man’s action dramatically improved the lives of six individuals, each of whom undoubtedly would have been willing to pay much more than $25 to get from the airport to their respective hotels. Haizheng told me he would have paid a lot more.

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID N. LABAND. “An Economics Lesson at the Baggage Carousel; Government-regulated taxis weren’t around in a snowstorm. Then came a man with a car and price.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 10, 2014): A11.
(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date Jan. 9, 2014.)

China’s Cultural Revolution Shows Need for Rule of Law

ChenRegretsCulturalRevolution2013-12-07.jpg “”I was too scared. I couldn’t stop it. I was afraid of being called a counterrevolutionary, of having to wear a dunce’s hat.” CHEN XIAOLU” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A5) BEIJING — ON the surface, at least, there is not much about Chen Xiaolu to suggest a lifetime of regret.

The son of one of Communist China’s founding generals, he enjoyed privilege at an early age and then a career as a business consultant that took him around the world. Now 67, he relaxes on golf courses in Scotland and southern France and eschews the dark suits and high-maintenance black hair of most affluent Chinese men for casual shirts and a gray buzz cut.
But beneath the genial exterior is a memory that has haunted him for nearly 50 years. There he was, back in high school, a fresh-faced member of the volleyball team and a student leader in Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, ordering teachers to line up in the auditorium, dunce caps on their bowed heads. He stood there, excited and proud, as thousands of students howled abuse at the teachers.
Then, suddenly, a posse stormed the stage and beat them until they crumpled to the floor, blood oozing from their heads. He did not object. He simply fled. “I was too scared,” he recalled recently in one of several interviews at a restaurant near Tiananmen Square, not far from his alma mater, No. 8 Middle School, which catered to the children of the Mao elite. “I couldn’t stop it. I was afraid of being called a counterrevolutionary, of having to wear a dunce’s hat.”
A ripple of confessions about the Cultural Revolution from former Red Guards, most of them retired men of modest backgrounds, has surfaced in the last few months. But it was Mr. Chen’s decision to step forward in August with a public apology that has drawn the most attention, raising hopes that a nation so determined to define its future might finally be moving to confront the horrors of its past.
He did so, he said, not only for personal redemption but also for profound reasons to do with China’s political development that must include the rule of law.
. . .
Mr. Chen’s remorse stands out because of his stature, then and now. He is quite candid that as the son of Chen Yi, a founder of Communist China and its longtime foreign minister, he was handed the mantle of immense authority during the decisive, early days of the Cultural Revolution.
. . .
THE Cultural Revolution remains largely hidden from view in China as successive governments have discouraged discussion of the turmoil and terror that Mao orchestrated to perpetuate his rule but that almost brought the country to its knees.
. . .
A particularly delicate subject for the party has been the number of people killed.
In Beijing alone, about 1,800 people died during August and September 1966, the height of the frenzy, when Mao first deployed students as Red Guards to turn against the party, according to the historians Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals. Estimates range from 1.5 million to three million dead across China from 1966 to 1976.
. . .
In a speech in early 1967, Chen Yi dared to criticize the Cultural Revolution. Mao sidelined him, and the man who had greeted every foreign leader to the new China was subjected to a humiliating self-criticism session and ordered to stay at home.

For the full story, see:
JANE PERLEZ. “THE SATURDAY PROFILE; A Leader in Mao’s Cultural Revolution Faces His Past.” The New York Times (Sat., December 7, 2013): A5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 6, 2013.)

ChenWithZhouEnlaiInEarly1970s2013-12-07.jpg

“Mr. Xiaolu [sic], center, with Zhou Enlai, right, in the early 1970s at a funeral.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

“Despising to Bury in the Ground Any of the Talents . . . Which Might Reach His Coffers”

(p. 97) . . . , Carnegie was concerned that he was overextended. From Dresden, in mid-November, he half jokingly apologized to his brother for placing his–and the family’s–finances in jeopardy. “Your finances are reputed far from healthy,” he had written Tom. “But how can they ever be otherwise? It was never intended. One of the firm, at least, was made to be forever head and ears in debt and to crowd full sail, despising to bury in the ground any of the talents (silver talents, I mean) which might reach his coffers, or to lie long under the suspicion of having at the bank even a moderate balance upon the right side of the ledger.” Carnegie had fantasized that “a whole year’s absence from opening up new enterprises… while the funds remained in charge of a super man, might possibly afford him, upon his return, a new sensation,” that of being solvent. But that was not going to happen.

Source:
Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.
(Note: ellipsis in title and at start added; ellipsis in Carnegie quote near end, in original.)
(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw’s book are the same.)

In 20th Century, Inventions Had Cultural Impact Twice as Fast as in 19th Century

NgramGraphTechnologies2013-12-08.png I used Google’s Ngram tool to generate the Ngram above, using the same technologies used in the Ngram that appeared in the print (but not the online) version of the article quoted and cited below. The blue line is “railroad”; the red line is “radio”; the green line is “television”; the orange line is “internet.” The search was case-insensitive. The print (but not the online) version of the article quoted and cited below, includes a caption that describes the Ngram tool: “A Google tool, the Ngram Viewer, allows anyone to chart the use of words and phrases in millions of books back to the year 1500. By measuring historical shifts in language, the tool offers a quantitative approach to understanding human history.”

(p. 3) Today, the Ngram Viewer contains words taken from about 7.5 million books, representing an estimated 6 percent of all books ever published. Academic researchers can tap into the data to conduct rigorous studies of linguistic shifts across decades or centuries. . . .
The system can also conduct quantitative checks on popular perceptions.
Consider our current notion that we live in a time when technology is evolving faster than ever. Mr. Aiden and Mr. Michel tested this belief by comparing the dates of invention of 147 technologies with the rates at which those innovations spread through English texts. They found that early 19th-century inventions, for instance, took 65 years to begin making a cultural impact, while turn-of-the-20th-century innovations took only 26 years. Their conclusion: the time it takes for society to learn about an invention has been shrinking by about 2.5 years every decade.
“You see it very quantitatively, going back centuries, the increasing speed with which technology is adopted,” Mr. Aiden says.
Still, they caution armchair linguists that the Ngram Viewer is a scientific tool whose results can be misinterpreted.
Witness a simple two-gram query for “fax machine.” Their book describes how the fax seems to pop up, “almost instantaneously, in the 1980s, soaring immediately to peak popularity.” But the machine was actually invented in the 1840s, the book reports. Back then it was called the “telefax.”
Certain concepts may persevere, even as the names for technologies change to suit the lexicon of their time.

For the full story, see:
NATASHA SINGER. “TECHNOPHORIA; In a Scoreboard of Words, a Cultural Guide.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 8, 2013): 3.
(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 7, 2013.)

Gates Is Only One Who Can Reshape Microsoft’s Culture

(p. 1D) Bill Gates should serve as Microsoft Corp.’s chief executive officer for a year as the software company he co-founded seeks a replacement for Steve Ballmer, Charles Schwab said Wednesday [November 20, 2013] at a conference in Chicago. . . . “I think it would behoove Gates to go back for at least a year,” Schwab said. “He’s the only guy who can really reshape the cultural aspects. Otherwise the organization will spit anybody out, anybody coming in.”

For the full story, see:
“Schwab Suggests Gates Return as CEO.” Omaha World-Herald (THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2013): 1D.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)