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How America Could Have Ruled the Earth in 1898

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In every war, inventors inundate the military with thousands of crackpot ideas for super-weapons. But even among these, there is one standout: Newton Harrieson. When the United States went to war with Spain in 1898, he proposed a simple way to defeat the Spanish: tip the Earth onto its side and freeze them.

Harrieson was the editor of Electrical Age, where he published his idea. All it would entail, he said, would be to "girdle the earth with a giant cable" 25,000 miles long. It would consist of twelve strands each a foot in diameter. It would weigh 264 million tons and take ten years to lay in a circle stretching from pole to pole.


A 13 billion-hp generating plant at Niagara Falls would supply the 10 million volts the cable would require to create an electromagnet powerful enough "to overcome the present magnetic poles of the earth." This would, Harrieson claimed, cause the earth to "lean violently toward the sun" and "give us a new north pole and new south pole." This would happen because, Harrieson explained, the sun is made mostly of iron.

Needless to say, every nation on earth that would be bisected by this enormous cable would naturally be delighted to allow the US to do this.


The total cost would be tremendous even by today's standards (and remember, Harrieson is talking 1898 dollars here): $15 billion to lay the cable, $1 trillion to reclaim the Arctic regions and $65 billion to build the generating plant.

The benefits of doing this would be incalculable, however, according to Harrieson. "We could save all the vast crops that are annually destroyed by the heat or cold." Arctic territories could be turned to agriculture and "Greenland would blossom with fruits and flowers, wheat fields and gardens would take the place of ice fields and glaciers." Humankind would be in absolute control of the seasons, the tropics could be cooled the the Arctic and Antarctic made tropical. The entire surface of the globe could be reclaimed for farming. The earth would be another Garden of Eden. "Bread famines would cease. Crops could be raised everywhere...And everybody would be happy."


But what really inspired Harrieson was patriotism. If the United States were to lay such a cable, it "could annihilate an enemy at will...In a single night a nation could be wiped from the earth—frozen to death." He went on to gleefully describe the horrific effects of his invention in a level of detail usually reserved for Dr. Evil: "The United States at a single touch of the button would transform [an enemy nation] to frozen wastes or torrid deserts. The waterways could be made to freeze or boil. In an hour the ocean would be a solid mass of ice or seething with heat. No life could withstand the change."

"The United States would be dictator of the world," he concluded, adding, apparently with a straight face, "without the loss of a single life."


Photo: Reuters