Tag Archives: Lawrence Hargrave

Technology and 9/11: aircraft vs skyscrapers

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Gift of representatives of the NYPD and FDNY to the Premier of NSW the Hon Bob Carr MP, presented to the Powerhouse Museum, 2002.

Sunday 11 September is the tenth anniversary of that horrendous and highly symbolic event, the ramming of two aircraft into skyscrapers in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington DC. This portion of a girder cut from one of the World Trade Center buildings, distorted and blackened by fire, serves as a poignant, physical reminder of the event.

The relic was brought to Australia by a group of New York fire fighters and police officers who took part in the rescue and clean-up. They visited Sydney in February 2002 as guests of the NSW government and donated this object to the Premier in honour of the ten Australians who died alongside 3000 others that day. Its value as a museum object is symbolic, commemorating not just those ten but all who died, including those on board a fourth plane that did not reach its target, and all who took part in the rescue and recovery operation.

The hijackers aimed to create carnage, havoc and fear. Symbolism determined their choice of targets: the centre of world capitalism and the nerve centre of US defence. Symbolism also determined their choice of weapon: three airliners carrying large quantities of jet fuel, perhaps sourced from the Middle East’s massive oilfields.

The two skyscrapers were symbols of American technological leadership and economic success, soaring above the land and casting shadows on the water. They were made of steel, concrete and glass, all materials known and used since ancient times. They were clad with aluminium, a material that only became widely available in the twentieth century – thanks to Charles Martin Hall, the American who devised a process to separate it cheaply from its ores.

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Powerhouse Museum Collection. Gift of Coles Myer Pty Ltd, 1997

Skyscrapers embody a good deal of engineering know-how. A key technology is the elevator with safety brake, invented in 1853 by another American, Elisha Otis. The Otis style governor above spent its working life in a shed perched on top of a Sydney retail building, ready to activate a brake if the lift it was connected to started falling too fast. Buildings could not be built more than a few storeys tall before the advent of the safety lift.

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Powerhouse Museum Collection. Gift of Scott Czarnecki, 2004.

The electric lift motor is another key enabling technology for multi-storey buildings. This lift motor with integrated winch spent its working life in a shed at the top of another Sydney retail building, reliably starting at full load whenever someone pushed a button and unerringly stopping the lift level with the required floor. It was made in England around 1915, but the firm that made it was eventually taken over by Otis Elevator, the world’s largest lift company.

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Powerhouse Museum Collection. Gift of Mr and Mrs E.A. and V.I. Crome, 1984

The first successful powered flight was achieved by two Americans, brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright, in 1903. Many other researchers had been trying to develop flying machines, including Australia’s own Lawrence Hargrave, whose box kite (below) probably contributed to the design of the Wright flyer’s wings. Hargrave also investigated animal movement and experimented with model ornithopters, making several different engines and a turbine to power them. Having put so much of his time and energy into pursuing the dream of flight, he expressed the hope that aircraft would not be used as war machines.

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Powerhouse Museum Collection. Gift of Lawrence Hargrave, 1915.

Of course, it was not long before planes were used in warfare. They grew bigger, stronger and faster, but there was a limit to how fast reciprocating engines could spin propellers. In the 1930s and 40s in England, Frank Whittle was the first to develop gas turbine engines, which could move planes much faster than piston engines. Engineers in Germany and America also developed turbine engines. The engine below was made by Whittle’s company, Power Jets Ltd, in 1943.

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Powerhouse Museum Collection. Gift of the Ministry of Supply, United Kingdom, 1951.

The American-made turbo-engine aeroplanes hijacked on 9/11 were not sinister war machines bristling with gun turrets and bombs, but sleek civilian craft similar to the Boeing 767 depicted by the model below. Their fuselage and wings were clad, like the twin towers of the World Trade Center, with that modern, lightweight, corrosion-resistant product of American ingenuity, aluminium.

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Powerhouse Museum Collection.

Just as we rarely think about the technology that enables skyscrapers to exist, we rarely worry about the civilian planes whizzing around our skies. Bringing the two together on that day in 2001 was a shocking act that changed the world, opening new fault lines and accentuating old enmities. Ten years later, the fault lines have stretched around the world and destroyed or disrupted thousands more lives. And while technology has made our lives more interesting, healthy and comfortable, it is certainly a two-edged sword in the hands of those with enmity in their hearts.

Meet the Volunteer- Meg Stevenson

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Apart from curators, registrars and conservators working with and interpreting the Museum’s collections, we also have an incredible mix of volunteers who work behind-the-scenes (as research and administrative assistants) and on-the-floor (meeting and greeting visitors, leading tours and running programs). In this series, we want to introduce you to some of these volunteers and their favourite objects – on video! We call these ‘vox pops’ – short, unedited video snapshots of interesting objects and people. Let us know what you think!


Name: Meg Stevenson

How long have you been volunteering at the Museum? 21 years

What is your favourite object in the Museum and why? The Baron Schmiedel bust and Hargrave box kites. They both have interesting stories behind them and are examples of human endeavour.

Movember

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Collection, Powerhouse Museum

 Yes, it’s that time of year again…Movember! This annual charity event is responsible for handlebar and Fu Manchu moustaches around Australia, and indeed the world, each November. Originating in Melbourne in 2003, Movember aims to promote awareness and raises much-needed funds for men’s health issues, with a focus on prostate cancer and depression.

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Collection, Powerhouse Museum

The first rule of Movember is to obviously begin the month with a clean-shaven face. One of the more interesting A-category objects in our collection comprises two folding cut-throat razors owned by John Fletcher Hargrave, father of aviation pioneer Lawrence Hargrave.
Photography Powerhouse Museum © all rights reserved

The blades are made from a section of recycled iron salvaged from one of the piles of old London Bridge, reputedly driven into the bed of the River Thames by King William Rufus in 1100. The use of iron shoes to manufacture items such as razor blades, tools and surgical instruments was quite common after the old London Bridge was demolished in 1830.

Given to J.F. Hargrave by his father at sixteen years of age, the razors are accompanied by a handmade silk bag and an envelope on which the provenance of the blades is handwritten.

The blades are significant due to their association with Lawrence Hargrave. The blades were passed to him upon his father’s death in 1885 and were kept in the family until they were kindly donated to the Powerhouse Museum by Mrs Helen Gray, Lawrence’s eldest daughter, in 1963.

So, at the end of the month when the Man of Movember has been crowned and the Tom Selleck wannabes go home, I’m sure a set like this will come in handy.

Kate Scott
Registrar

Meet the curator- Ian Debenham

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Marinco Kojdanovski, © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

Name
Ian Debenham (retired February 2010)

What is your specialty area?
In a former life, I was a Licence Aircraft Maintenance Engineer with Qantas who left and obtained an Honours Degree in Ancient History – Roman economic history to be precise. At the Museum, I work primarily with the aviation collection and, because of a long association with boats, I look after the maritime collection. I have also had a long association with cars and I assist my colleague Andrew Grant in this collection area.

How long have you been working at the Museum?
Almost thirty years now, although I had an uncle who worked at the Museum as an Assistant Botanist, so some of my earliest and my most treasured memories are of visiting behind-the-scenes at the Museum. It’s like I have been here forever!

Favourite object in the collection?
With such a long memory of the Museum, it’s hard to identify a favourite object especially, too, when we have such icons as the Hargrave collection, the Boulton and Watt engine and No.1 locomotive. There is also our fantastic collection of aero engines to consider, but I’d have to say, that the Boeing PB2B-2 Catalina “Frigate Bird II” is very dear to my heart because I like large round engined metal aeroplanes; I’ve met several of the crew who went with it to South America and back and I have met members of Sir P G Taylor’s family who are all delightful people. Sadly, I didn’t get to meet ‘P G’; a real hero in my opinion. The flight of “Frigate Bird II” from Sydney to Valparaiso, Chile and back was a great achievement.

What piece of research or exhibition are you most proud of in your career at the Museum?
The research that forged a definite link between Lawrence Hargrave’s box kite and the Wright Brother’s “Flyer”. The evolution of the design moved from the Hargrave box kite through Octave Chanute’s “ladder kite” to his “Katydid” and thus the biplane glider, whose layout formed the basis of the “Flyer”. For years people have searched for this link, but I found it! Hargrave was no longer the ‘old kite flyer’, but he was a necessary link in the development of the successful aeroplane. History had denied him that richly deserved accolade for so long.

Meet the curator- Melanie Pitkin

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Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum all rights reserved

Name
Melanie Pitkin

What is your speciality area?
My academic background is in Ancient History and Egyptology so my main specialty area is actually Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period history. But, at the Museum I work mostly with our Australian and International arts and design collection – which spans everything from furniture, fashion, textiles and graphic design to archaeology, glass, ceramics and jewellery. I also dabble in the work of the aviation pioneer Lawrence Hargrave.

How long have you been working at the Museum?
Since 2006. But, before joining the Museum full-time, I volunteered with Anne Watson, former Curator of Architecture and Design.

What is your favourite object in the collection?
Well, there are a few. I love haute couture and the Museum’s fashion collection, especially the Balenciaga evening dress. For obvious reasons, I’m also attached to our small and select archaeology collection including our Egyptian ushabtis figures, Greek amphora vase and collection of daily life objects from Medieval and Roman Britain. I must also add the Thomas Hope Egyptian Revival suite and Tejo Remy’s chest of drawers made by Droog. Actually, you better watch this space – my list seems to grow daily!

What piece of research or exhibition are you most proud of in your career at the Museum?
Without a doubt, this would have to be the Faith, fashion, fusion: Muslim women’s style in Australia exhibition. This exhibition showcased at the Powerhouse Museum from May 2012 until July 2013 and is now travelling around Australia. It was, and continues to be, a terrific experience working with Australia’s dynamic Muslim community; showcasing our local talent in the emerging modest fashion industry and capturing peoples’ rich and varied personal stories.