Criminal Annals, Part 27 – The Placer Times: Extraordinary Discovery

The March 30, 1850 issue of the “Placer Times” opens with the usual political business and then a story about a new discovery that will change the way people heat and light their houses and will also allow all to soar around in balloons.

The editor seems to think there might be more than just a bit of “delusion” in the story. without actually saying “possible scam.” It does not say if there is an investment possibility for the newly rich in California, but probably there will be.

“Extraordinary Discovery. – We copy the following letter from the Washington Union, which vouches for the scientific intelligence and high integrity of the writer. Nevertheless, we apprehend delusion, to some extent.

“Messrs. Editors: I am authorized to announce the discovery and practical test of the most important scientific invention every yet produced, or brought to light since the world has been inhabited by man.

“The first and main feature, and foundation of this invention, which at once opens a field for hundreds of other inventions, is the discovery by Henry M. Paine, Esq. of a ready and almost expenseless mode of decomposing water and reducing it to the gaseous state. By the simple operation of a very small machine, without galvanic batteries, or the consumption of metals or acids, and only the application of less than one three-hundredth (1-300) part of one horse power, Mr. Paine produces 200 cubic feet of hydrogen gas and 100 feet of oxygen gas, per hour.
This quantity of these gases (the actual cost of which is less than one cent) will furnish as much heat by combustion at 2000 feet of ordinary coal gas, sufficient to supply light equal to three hundred common lamps for ten hours, or to warm an ordinary dwelling house twelve hours, an including the requisite heat for the kitchen; or to supply the requisite heat for one horse power of steam. This invention has been tested by six months’ operation applied to the lighting of houses, and recently the applicability of these gases to the warming of houses has also been tested with perfectly satisfactory results. A steam engine furnace and parlor stove, both adapted to the burning of these gasses, have been invented, and measures taken for securing patents therefor.

“Mr. Paine has one of this machines, new and elegant, now in full operation and publicly exhibited, and may be expected to exhibit the same in this city [Washington, D.C., not Sacramento] within twenty days. The only actual expense of warming houses by this apparatus is that of winding up a weight (like the winding up of a clock) once a day; and the heat produced may be as easily graduated and regulated as the flame of a common gas-burner. No smoke whatsoever is produced, but a very small quantity of steam, sufficient to supply the requisite moisture to the atmosphere. In its application to the production of steam-power, it will reduce the expense to the mere wear on machinery, and will immediately produce an immense demand for steam engines, and induce the establishment of thousands of manufacturing mills, reduce the expense of travelling, and increase the demand for agricultural produce, while it ruins the coal and gas business, and such manufacturing establishment as depend on monopoly and high prices.

“This invention, moreover, removes completely the only obstacles which have hitherto existed to aerial navigation – the difficulty of procuring hydrogen gas, and carrying a supply of fuel; and it may now be considered a matter of tolerable certainty that men will be seen swiftly and safely soaring in various directions before the first of May next. These facts, being of immense importance, should not be longer withheld, and I therefore would avail myself of your widely circulating journal to present them to the public.

“Your, respectfully, R. PORTER, Washington, December 22, 1849.”

Just as a note, Mr. Henry M. Paine did obtain a patent (US Letters Patent 308276) in 1884 for a machine that would manufacture hydrogen gas using battery power and convert it to a more benign form by bubbling it through a hydrocarbon liquid. It is still of great interest to “free energy” enthusiasts.

On the front page of the April 6, 1850 edition of the Placer Times is an interesting letter that was picked up from the San Francisco “Alta California.” It is from someone who is in Panama and signs the letter simply S. S. O.

It starts out with quite a description of the huge number of passengers heading from Panama to California and a comment that all the steamship tickets for the next two months from New York to Panama [Chagres on the Atlantic side], have been already sold. The last part of the letter refers to an interesting incident in Panama regarding an American suspected of robbery.

“There was quite a row here yesterday. It appears an American had been imprisoned on suspicion of a robbery and kept incarcerated for four or five days without a trial. Several friends of his being morally convinced of his innocence, and thinking it extremely unjust that he should be so long in the stocks without a hearing, applied to W. A. B. Corwine, our new consul, to represent the grievance of which they complained to the proper authorities; he did so and received, it would appear, no satisfactory explanation. About five o’clock the crowd gathered, broke open the jail and liberated the prisoner. Of course a little excitement and a little speechifying ensued. Mr. Corwine addressed the crowd, recommending order and observance of the laws and pledged himself to deliver the accused to the authorities in the morning, to take his trial. The governor was appeased, the mob was satisfied, the consul was cheered and the scene closed. I have not heard the suit and nobody seems to care about it.”


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