The author, Gordon Ettie, was influenced greatly by the statement that there was enough energy in a glass of water to power a steamship across the Atlantic Ocean. This statement was often heard during the great technological innovations of the 1930s and 40s and the energy or source of power referred to is in the bonding of the water molecules – H2O – which is nuclear energy. The reference to a steamship further dates the saying—as steamships were popular forms of transatlantic transportation in that time period. But it was this seemingly simple statement that gave the author his life’s direction and passion.
Energy and power—after food and shelter these are the two most powerful drivers for both individual success and global progress. Until the beginning of the 19th century fire was the primary energy, providing both heat and light. And the usual fuel source was wood or dried animal dung and candles for light. (These fuel or energy sources are still in use today in many underdeveloped countries).
When electricity was harnessed by the invention of the electric motor by Michael Faraday in 1821 a great change began to take place. This change marked the beginning of a rapid and exciting expansion of energy and power and the application of both not only to individual progress and comfort but commercial and industrial advances.
James Maxwell linked electricity, magnetism and light in 1861.Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Alexander Graham Bell and others rapidly followed and all served to turn electricity from a scientific curiosity to a tool that started the technological revolution, which then lead to the industrial revolution. Thus a direct line can be drawn from the technological revolution, which began with electrification in the 1880’s to efficiencies in production that we enjoy today.
But this enjoyment was due to more than just the inventions, investments and advancements in technology. There is another major factor which played a large role in these advancements, and that was the low cost energy from coal, oil and gas—making the production of energy in great abundance economically viable. Mother Nature herself was a ‘partner’ in progress yielding up her enormous supply of energy from the earth and the seas at a relatively low extraction and processing cost. The genie was out of the bottle. Society improved and flourished because of the low cost of energy—and this truth comes home with maybe the greatest force and result for the United States.