Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  11 (1885–86), 495–518.

An Iron City Beside the Ruhr

Moncure D Conway


Essay, Travelogue

Relevant illustrations:

eng. [20]


Industry, Gender, Mining, Military Technology, Nomenclature, Intellectual Property, Manufactories, Imagination, Metallurgy, Aesthetics, Scientific Practitioners, Steam-power, Evolution, Darwinism, Anthropology, Museums, Human Development, War, Astronomy, Heterodoxy, Dynamics, Invention, Machinery

People mentioned:

Joseph Whitworth , Johann N von Dreyse , Hiram S Maxim

Publications cited:

Renan 1878 , Cooke 1875 , King 1877

    Observes of the area of Essen in western Germany that for 'ten centuries this whole region was under the rule of women', and notes that in 1826 a 'certain widow Krupp undertook to carry on a small iron forge which had been left by her husband' forming 'a sort of link between the feminine régime and the age of "blood and iron"' (496). The widow's son, Alfred Krupp, has since built the humble iron forge into 'probably the largest business in the world dependent upon a single individual', and to the 'general world the name "Krupp" has almost ceased to be personal; it signifies a particular implement of destruction' (497), the infamous Krupp guns, which 'possess phenomenal and scientific interest' as 'instruments that make contemporary history, and are moulding the future of humanity' (515). Comments that Krupp carefully restricts the sale of his guns to the English, who are in the habit of simply 'copying them at Woolwich', and also does not allow any visitors admission to his huge factory in Essen. However, the author of the present article is 'admitted for a literary purpose' even though 'Such a thing has never occurred before' (498), and he describes the factory's 'vast and weird halls' in which 'all the Infernos ever imagined by man [...] seem collected and seething together', and where even the 'eyes of Dante would have to be shielded from some of the [...] burning lakes'. Reflects that the 'Bessemer converter', an 'ideal behemoth [...] vomiting flame and gas', is a 'fascinating thing to watch', and comments that its operation 'requires an observation' of the particular 'hue of the fire' that is incredibly 'delicate, not to say artistic' (500). Asserts that a 'student of the laws of evolution, however peacefully inclined, can not fail to be fascinated by instruments representing the development of the art of destruction. The extinction or survival of animal species is determined by the relative nicety of their weapons. Michelet was scandalized by the pains which nature has taken to perfect the viper's fang, but by it the bird's wing has been developed' (507), and later notes that the 'struggle for existence daily assumes more and more the character of war' (515). However, comparing Krupp's armaments with a 'series of curved sticks' which an 'Australian savage would hurl' in the 'Pitt-Rivers Collection at Oxford' (507–08), contends that the 'Survival of the fit can no longer be identified with survival of the fighting', and with 'Moltke [...] the one public man in the civilized world who has upheld war as an ideal [...] Germany can not be accorded a high place among civilized nations' (508). Also explains that 'Darwin said that he found it the most difficult thing for the majority of minds to understand the enormous results of ever-recurring agencies, however small, working through practically unlimited time', but in Krupp's gigantic factory the 'swiftness and power of these mechanical agencies [i.e. 'steam explosions'] apply in an hour more force for a particular end than nature would apply in centuries, unless, indeed, as Ignatius Donnelly says [in Donnelly 1883], nature should bring on a comet occasionally to crystallize gravel into marble, or burn up Chicago' (510).

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