Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Motor Cars and Medical Men: Should doctors drive or ride horses?

In the late 1800s and early 1900s the medical journal Lancet featured a spirited debate about whether doctors ("medical men") should give up their horses for newfangled cars. Horses were reliable and could get just about anywhere, which was a major concern before there were roads everywhere. In this debate, and medical man named H.E. Bruce Potter was an enthusiastic supporter of switching to cars. He wrote multiple letters to the editors of Lancet explaining just why cars were superior. Here he explains the relative advantages of the three leading propulsion technologies (be sure to note that he states the electric car is certainly the engine of the future. He's not wrong, yet, but I doubt he was thinking it would take another 125 years.):
To the Editors of THE LANCET.
SIRS;Being one of the first medical men in England to adopt the automobile as a means of locomotion and being written to frequently for my opinion and experience of this
means of getting about it has struck me that a few words of advice might help those medical men who contemplate changing the horse for the motor. The principal points for intended purchasers to keep in view are:
First, every maker will assure you that his car is the best on the market and never breaks down ; and, secondly, any maker of repute will give a trial run. Before buying try several makes and
compare experiences, but do not decide unless you have had at least 25 miles’ run, as many of the smaller cars seem excellent when only tried over a few miles of good road, but in spite of what the makers say to the contrary they often fail on a steep hill.

The three types of car on the market are electric, steam, and petrol.
1. Electric may be the cars of the future, but in their present state they are not suitable for medical men. The cost of the up-keep is immense owing to the short life of the accumulators, the distance run on one charge is too short for an average medical man’s round, and they take a long
time re-charging.
2. The steam-car. The best known at present is the Locomobile"; it is a neat-looking machine and a good hill-climber, but for a medical man it is not suitable, no matter what the makers may say: (1) it is too light and must have pneumatic tyres, and the liability to puncture is a fatal obstacle, as the medical man cannot choose his road, and a puncture when on an urgent call would be just as likely to happen as at any other time ; (2) it takes too long to get up steam ; and (3) it uses
so much petrol that it is more than four times as expensive per mile as the Benz, Mors, or Daimler. The constant anxiety of watching the water-gauge lest the water in the boiler gets too low and a tube burn out is a nuisance to a medical man; then the water-tank only holds enough for about from 12 to 15 miles. It would do for short distances on good roads, but not for the rough use of medical work.
3. Benz, Mors, and Daimler cars are driven by explosions of petrol mixed with air ; in the Benz and Mors ignition is by electric spark only-in the Daimler by electric or lamp. The Benz and Mors are belt-driven and in wet weather the belts are liable to slip. Several of my friends have tried the Benz, but have given them up for other makes. They are light and, judging from my friends’ experiences, this has been an advantage, as they have had to push. In addition to
the belt trouble with Mors cars they are fitted with pneumatic tyres, and if these are replaced by solid tyres the jolting on the ordinary road breaks the spokes. They are much too complicated for anyone but an engineer or someone with a love of engineering to take as a substitute for

The Daimler iii, to my mind, the best car on the market at present. The principle of the engine has proved most successful, and is that of the Panhard in France and Canstatt Daimler in Germany. I have driven my present car for about a year and a half and have never once failed to keep an appointment nor have I ever had to be towed home, though I have towed home Benz cars, Mors, and Locomobiles belonging to friends and acquaintances. After a year and four months’ running I drove to Coventry fromWindsor to have the car overhauled and varnished. It did the journey without having to stop except once to fill the petrol tank from my extra supply can. When tested at the works the engine gave five and three-quarter B.H.P., and this at the end of over a year’s wear during which it had run about 6000 miles. My present car cost about E450 and is a mail phaeton with moveable hood and is the type of car I would advise those who can afford to pay so much for a machine to buy.

I believe that the car most likely to suit medical men will be a car of which I saw drawings, &c., at Coventry. It will, I am informed, cost little over E250 and drive by means of a live axle. The amount of repairs required on my car for one year and three months’ wear did not amount to 10. I have since had a new water-tank and top-speed gear wheel. I have spent a certain amount on improvements such as wheel-steering and compression plates on pistons to increase horse-power, but these things were not necessities and are fitted to all new cars now.

My advice is, Get a good car from a good maker, leave experimental cars to men who have time to make experiments, and when you have a car take a personal interest in it. I might mention that my experience has been of nearly three years’ duration and I have had much less worry than when I drove horses.
-I am, Sirs, yours faithfully,
Windsor, May 20th, 1901. -

The takeaway from all of this is that new automobile technology was a somewhat hard sell initially. It takes time to change, and even things that are commonplace now were viewed suspiciously at first. Oh, and electric cars are right around the corner.
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