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Short Stories of Science and Invention

A Collection of Radio Talks by
Charles F. Kettering

INDEX

Weekly, from September 1942 to July 1945, Charles F. Kettering gave five-minute intermission talks about Science and Invention during the radio broadcasts of the General Motors Symphony of the Air.

Kettering invented the first automobile self-starter, and for 31 years directed a research laboratory for General Motors.

These radio talks are a fascinating legacy from the mind of a prolific inventor. The obvious anachronisms now add a historical perspective of the war-time period in which they were written.

These web pages now preserve some of the most popular stories for a new generation to read The text and art come from a General Motors booklet of selected talks. (Reprint, March 1959)

17. There is Always a Frontier
A Radio Talk by Charles F. Kettering

Richard    In "The Talisman," there is the Crusade incident where King Richard and Saladin demonstrated the merits of their weapons. Richard, with a tremendous stroke of his broad sword, severed a bar of iron. Saladin, in contrast, with his flexible, keen-edged scimitar neatly cut in two a soft pillow. This was more than an entertaining demonstration, it was a comparison of two samples of steel made by different methods, and shows the state of the blacksmith's or steelmaker's art in the 12th century.

    But even in the Middle Ages, the steelmaker's trade was a very old one. Thirteen hundred years before that, the Romans defeated the Celts because the swords used by Celts were poorly tempered and had to be straightened after each blow.

Blacksmith    In those days, each blacksmith had trade secrets which he had developed himself, or which had been handed down to him by his father. These blacksmiths knew that they had to have good metal to start with; each added his own particular brand of skill along with a little good luck. The latter was very important. Some craftsmen, however, produced consistently fine materials. For instance, the Damascus blade was notable because of its flexibility and strength. Its steel contained a great deal of carbon which normally makes metal hard and brittle. But the sword-maker would heat the blade and hammer it and re-heat and hammer it again and again until he had changed the entire structure of the metal. The more it was hammered the more flexible it became, yet it retained its hardness.


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