A tale of courage and narrow-mindedness

Sept. 11, 2005
100 years ago in AMERICAN MACHINIST

On July 21, 1905, the U.S.S. Bennington's steam boilers exploded, marking the U.S. Navy's worst peacetime disaster until that time and bringing the Navy's personnel and social structure under scrutiny. The tale that unfolded is one of ineptitude, shortsightedness, and heroism — 11 Congressional Metals of Honor were awarded. For the next several months, the editors of AM would comment on what they perceived as one of the root causes of the disaster — the Navy's mistreatment of engineers, even Annapolis-trained marine engineers, because they were in proximity to "greasy engines." This situation resulted in many qualified engineers leaving the Navy or deciding not to enlist.

50 years ago in AMERICAN MACHINIST

Equipping the Cold War

In the September 12, 1955, issue, AM editors reported on the Defense Department's (DoD) approval of 11 Navy contracts, part of the government's effort to develop multiple armament sources. The contracts were the first with price differentials under the Pentagon's broad mobilization-base directive, issued in December, that authorized the services to pay premium prices to keep certain firms in military production even though lower bids were offered by others.

Safety equipment was not big business

'56 Ford

'56 Chevy

The editors advised readers not to expect "any startling safety innovations in the new crop of automobiles for 1956." All the devices, except safety door-latches, would be optional. It's not that safety wasn't a concern. It's just that it wasn't a big enough concern to involve the government or attract the attention of buyers. For example, Ford's 1956 "Lifeguard Design" was based upon safety — it had deep-dish steering wheels, rear-view mirrors, safety door-latches, seat belts, and padded dashboards. But the car didn't sell. However, Chevrolet's faster, sleeker car, the '56 Chevy, did, leading the industry to conclude that safety was not big business. Improvements in safety would creep along until 1965, when Ralph Nader published Unsafe at any Speed, which led to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Act of 1966.

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