Will levitation be a public utility like electricity? Will flying battleships patrol the skies, or sea-borne ones be forced aloft by submarine subterfuge? Will city planners move skyscrapers around like chess pieces, lifting them into the air with ease and plonking them down in better locations? Will famous monuments tour the world for everyone to see? Will we execute criminals by electrically charging them and humanely propelling them into space to a Saganian poetic fate? Will our enemies try to secretly do the same to us against our will?
In 1903, all these possibilities seemed tantalizingly within reach.
The Washington Times (no relation to the current paper of that name) published on April 3, 1903 (p. 40 & 41) an illustrated collection of articles about Prof. Emil L. Scharf, a lecturer in modern languages with an interest in electrical experiments, who found that by positively charging his body with an electrical appliance of his own secret design he could reduce his weight.
He had discovered anti-gravity!
His theory was simple: like charges repel; the earth is positively charged; hence, providing sufficient positive charge (or "Scharf current") to an object or person would cause them to levitate. As a language professor, he came to this theory while studying classic works about the levitating powers of fakirs and, naturally, Jesus' ascent into Heaven.
Sure enough, it worked, at least until he started to feel faint and had to stop at a mere seven-pound weight reduction. At the time of the article, he had already secured funding for additional experiments to push the technology beyond weight loss to much grander purposes, some of which are mentioned above.
Since we obviously aren't all levitating around, something must have gone wrong. Did his later experiments prove the underlying theory incorrect? Was he unable to overcome the syncopal barrier as he hoped? Or, perhaps, he was too successful and his work was commandeered and censored by the government in the run up to the Great War to keep it out of the hands of the Kaiser. It is interesting to note that in 1943 the US Navy infamously conducted secret experiments to electrically charge a battleship, the USS Eldridge, reportedly to somewhat undesireable effect.
More about Prof. Scharf: In 1908 he sent a letter asking Andrew Carnegie, a member of the Simplified Spelling Board, to fund his publishing of a series of five books, starting with "The Metafysics of Base Ball", aimed at promoting English spelling reform. (His request was politely refused by Mr. Carnegie's personal secretary.) In 1910, as president of the National Anti-Food-Trust League, he agitated a crusade to "combat high prices by abstinence from meat diet" (which his lawyer advised him to not call a boycott; see his testimony before Congress, including advice on tipping waiters).
Then in 1911 he got into trouble trying to sell Catholic votes to a Congressman (Washington Post, Aug. 16, 1911, pay-walled page scan with OCRed text) which led to his being expelled from the Knights of Columbus. He denied all charges. Could it have been a set-up for the Knights to seize his levitation technology?
Anyway, here's the articles from the Times, one by Prof. Scharf explaining his discovery and others that raise some of the wonders and worries (such as warfare and getting stranded in the sky without a supply of negative electricity to allow descent) that might accompany his Brave New Levitating World:
When Buildings and
Marvelous Possibilities in the Negation of Gravitation
The discovery of perpetual motion, the transmutation of metals and the annihilation of gravitation are mysteries which have baffled the minds of men ever since, and probably long before, the dawn of civilization.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century whenever these fascinating subjects wore broached, the scientist could only answer, and rightly, too, "Impossible," for he had neither theoretical data nor experimental evidence to indicate that such things could be.
With the advent of radium, however, a long step was was taken looking toward the ultimate realization of these little-understood phenomena, for by its wonderful manifestations of radiant energy it has given us an insight into the actuality of what we term perpetual motion, projecting as it does its corpuscles carrying electric charges and capable of doing work without losing any of its original weight and without cessation; likewise it offers an analogous condition to that of transforming the baser metals into those of precious worth, since it is now known with certainty that radium changes into helium.
These are not mere glittering generalities, but cold, hard facts, obtained by rigid experiment by such observers as Becquerel, the Curies and Lord Ramsey.
* * * * *
But gravitation! Is this attractive force which draws bodies upon or near the surface of the earth to forever remain without the pale of man's analysis? Radium offers no solution for the mysterious attraction, although Newton did solve its laws.
When asked what gravitation is it is easy to say that it is the force which causes every particle of matter in the universe to attract every other particle. But just what this force may be is another and more serious question and as difficult to answer as "What is electricity?"
In either case the laws governing their actions are quite well known, and since all kinds of energy, such as light, heat and mechanical motion, may be changed from one to another, it has been assumed that gravitation is merely another phase of electric or magnetic action, and according to the extraordinary experiments of Professor Scharf of Washington D. C., it would seem to verify the theory that there is a very close linking between these different forces.
Professor Scharf's postulates seem to be based upon sound deductive and experimental reasoning in that he begins with the simplest fundamental tests in electricity, namely, electric attraction and repulsion. If two pieces of paper or other bodies are equally charged with the same kind of electricity, say of the positive sign, they will instantly repel each other, regardless of gravitational force.
* * * * *
This can be easily tried by heating a couple of strips of newspaper, to expel the moisture, and then in a dry room rub them briskly with the finger tips, when they will fly apart. But this is not all that occurs; for wherever a charge of positive electricity is generated there will be in the immediate neighborhood an equal charge of negative electricity.
In Professor Scharf's description of his experiments in electrically elevating the body against the contending force of gravity he does not say how or by what means this negative charge is absorbed or conducted away whilst the earth and its complementary subject are positively charged; but with a fundamental principle of such gigantic import as the one he is wrestling with it is but natural that he should desire more time to verify his deductions.
That the earth is charged with electricity there can be no doubt, though it is not always charged to the positive sign. This is the reason that telegraphers must search sometimes for what is called a good ground; but there are places where the earth is constantly positive and in such a place would the anti-gravitation test best succeed. Again such a condition might be produced artificially.
The writer has often noted, when working with X-ray coils of high potential, say of eighty or one hundred thousand volts, that if he accidentally touched on of the terminals a peculiar lifting sensation quite like that described by Professor Scharf always resulted.
This may or may not have been due to the repelling force exerted between his own body and the earth being charged with positive electricity; but it is a significant fact, nevertheless.
According to the laws of electrostatics, which state that electric charges of like signs repel each other and electric charges of opposite signs attract each other, it is reasonable to believe that if the earth and the subject were both negatively electrified the same result of repulsion would be manifested.
* * * * *
Under these conditions it may not be very far from the mark if we assume that Professor Scharf has devised ways and means for charging the human body to a degree of electrification equally with that of the earth. That it requires a certain potential, that is pressure, of positive electricity, there can be no doubt; but there is no difficulty in producing a potential of any voltage up to a million.
One of the simplest methods for obtaining those high potentials is by means of a frictional machine such as physicians use in giving electric treatment. It comprises one or more glass disks two or three feet in diameter set on an axis and arranged so that they may be revolved. On one side of the glass disk a cushion made of silk or leather presses firmly against its surface; this generates the electricity, and on the opposite side are some metallic points attached to a ball of metal called the prime conductor, which gathers in the positive electricity.
If a subject is is now placed on a glass plate to insulate him from the earth he may be charged with electricity to his fullest capacity and then if the earth is similarly electrified, or if, as Professor Scharf asserts, gravitation is a phase of electricity, the subject must be repelled from its surface. Any object, theoretically, even if it were a battleship or a skyscraper, must be repelled from its surface. Any object, theoretically, even if it were a battleship or a skyscraper, must be repelled if it and an equal mass of the earth were similarly charged.
One cannot say absolutely that gravitation is of an electrical nature; but yet we know how easy it is to convert electricity into magnetic lines of force by merely causing a current to flow through a coil of wire, and conversely it is just as easy to transform magnetism into an electric current by passing wire through a magnetic field; we know that the earth acts like a huge magnet, and as it revolves in space around its own axis at the rate of more than a thousand miles an hour it is reasonable that high potential charges of electricity are set up in and on its surface and that this is what causes the apple to fall to the ground and which we speak of as gravitation.
Whatever may be said of the working of these theoretical considerations, it is good to speculate upon them, not only for their scientific value, but for the worldwide good they would bring humanity if put to commercial uses.
Negative gravity would be the greatest scientific discovery ever made.
Washington Professor Claims to Have Discovered Earth's Greatest Secret
If you see the Flatiron Building rising in the air some evening and calmly sailing off toward Westchester, like Santos-Dumont's flying machine; or if you see Bunker Hill Monument floating like a bird on the wing up among the clouds; or, better still, if you happen to see the Capitol at Washington go past on its way through the air from the Potomac to New England, you may be sure that Professor E. L. Scharf, of 931 F street Northwest, Washington, has put his theory of levitation into working order.
Professor Scharf, formerly of the faculty of the Catholic University of America, now a teacher of languages, has discovered how to break the law of gravitation. He thinks that he will soon be able to solve the problem of the flying machine, of lifting great weights and causing buildings weighing thousands of tons to sail off into space like feathers by reversing the attraction of gravitation.
The bald statement of such a discovery sounds like a chimerical phantom, another fool's gold, the vagary of a visionary recluse. Admitted. But a talk with Professor Scharf removes all such impressions.
The man who thinks he has the clew to the control of a force so wonderful that it will, if developed, revolutionize the scientific and commercial worlds, is a big, solid man, modest, practical, jolly, prosaic, expectant and tolerant of ridicule—in fact, the very opposite type from that one would look for in the projector of so startling a claim.
There is nothing of the Cagliostro or Archimedes in his style. This is probably the reason he has succeeded, even with no more than tentative results from his experimentation, in interesting both statesmen and, more to the point, New York capitalists in his scheme.
Professor Scharf is confident of the correctness of his conclusions, and explains that his process is based on well-known scientific facts, and is merely a logical development of a logical theory.
HOW I DISCOVERED
By PROF. E. L. SCHARF
Formerly of the Faculty of the Catholic University of America.
The earth being charged with positive electricity, proves that if a man could charge himself with the same sort of electricity he would be repelled from the earth's surface. "Like repels like," and opposites attract each other. It is a rule that is as old as the hills.
You will remember the elementary experiment with the two cork balls suspended with silk cords. You rub one with resin inducing a positive charge, the other with glass, charging it negatively. Then you approximate the balls, and they fly together. Now you rub with glass the ball you had rubbed with resin, and on approximating them you find that they spring apart from each other.
What does this prove? Both the automatic repellance of similarly charged electrical bodies and the fact that it is possible to change the electrical charge of a given body.
By charging my body with the same positive force that the earth contains I have actually reduced the weight of my body seven pounds, and only stopped the experiment there because I began to feel a fainting sensation about the heart that made me think perhaps there might be danger in the experiment.
I had insulated a pair of the finest scales by placing them upon glass.
Close to the scales I placed my electrical appliance, the construction of which I will, of course, not divulge, beyond saying that it employs wires which run from beneath the surface of the earth, connect with my body, and back to the earth again.
Stepping on the platform of the delicately adjusted weighing machine, I noted with the greatest care the succeeding registration.
I was growing lighter! One, two, three pounds was gone from my normal weight of a moment before. Prudence or timorousness dictated a halt, but the exhilaration of hope, the impelling desire to put my discovery to a positive test, bade me continue.
Losing His Weight.
The sensitive register showed a continual diminution of my weight. Four—five—six—yes, even seven pounds lighter than when I first took the record. Accompanying this loss of weight were strange sensations, such as never in all my life had I experienced.
A sense as of casting off physical moorings crept over me. Lightness gradually pervaded my body, and as I turned on the current I felt as if I were actually rising; yes, almost flying.
It was a peculiar feeling about my heart which decided me to suspend the experiments, until I can test my plan on dummies and the lower animals, to make sure there is no attendant danger, or, if there is such danger, to obviate it.
For years the idea of such a force opposed to gravity had buzzed in my brain. My attention was first called to it while I was connected with the Catholic University.
The reading of the modern and classic Hindoo and Persian works made me take notice of the claim, seemingly substantiated, that seers of these two races were able by prostrating themselves upon the ground, and by other mystic rites which probably had nothing to do with the natural phenomena, to raise their bodies into the air.
The ascending of our blessed Lord and Master, Jesus, into the heavens with a physical body convinced me that it was done by natural laws of which He must have been the master. The highest proof of the Master's divinity was His ability to control laws that to humanity were a sealed book. That he rose into the air proves to me that He, as master of the universe, understood the secret of negative gravity.
The fact that all the levitation claimed by the Eastern doctors was and is preceded by prostration upon the ground reveals the secret of the phenomena.
I naturally inferred that something in the earth itself was the power which, properly controlled, was strong enough to successfully oppose the attraction of earth for physical objects. As a scientist I knew that electricity was the underlying principle of many physical manifestations, and that the earth was charged with the positive element of electricity.
As soon as I stepped from the scales after my experiment of charging my body with positive force and reducing my weight seven pounds, the energy employed in the experiment departed to the earth, and a moment after, stepping upon the scales, I found that my weight was normal again.
I firmly believe that within fifty years the force which for want of a better name has been called levitation will be so thoroughly understood and its uses and control so well demonstrated that it will occupy a position in the list of great public utilities such as the electric telegraph, the telephone, the wireless telegraph and the electric railway hold to-day.
The storms of doubt, the shafts of ridicule, and the jeers of the unthinking will prove as idle in combating the development of this new force—or rather an application of that force—as did opposition, satire and doubts in the first half of the last century toward crushing a great discovery.
One has only to consult the official records of the proceedings in Congress to bear out this assertion. It was before you were born, to be sure, but within the memory of your father, that a modest appropriation of $25,000 was asked from Congress to cover the expense of constructing an electrical telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore.
This line was intended to demonstrate the practicability of the invention of Samuel F. B. Morse. What happened? Why, learned statesmen in both houses of Congress thundered invectives against such wilful waste of the public moneys upon a chimera.
Morse was dubbed an eccentric dabbler in hopeless experiments, and so widespread was the ignorance as to natural phenomena that the members of the great legislative body really regarded his as insane.
Every inventor, discoverer, or experimenter, who is in danger of being deterred in his chosen work by abuse from those in authority, ridicule from the cynical, doubt or apathy on the part of the public, should refresh himself and take new heart by reading up on the vicissitudes of Morse and his telegraph.
Fund for Experiments.
We do things differently nowadays. Private capital and governmental aid is not lacking in any matter concerned with the onward march of science. This has truly been called the golden age for inventors, developers, and even dreamers.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars are obtained with ease for the construction of dirigible balloons, so-called flying machines, submarine boats of various types, wireless telegraph stations at sea and on land, new explosives, and new armament, while within the memory of men now active in Washington life, Prof. Morse was compelled humbly to supplicate for a paltry $25,000, that he might give to the world one of its greatest discoveries.
My experience in obtaining the promise of financial backing for my further experiments is a verification of this statement.
Enjoying a life-long and close friendship with the late Senator Hanna, I had no difficulty in securing proper letters of introduction to New York capitalists. I laid my scheme before men who are pre-eminently devoted to the practical, and have no time for the consideration of visionary dreams, with an abiding fear, I confess that my proposition would be considered to come within this category.
I was surprised and delighted at the ready response. "Why, certainly," I was told, "we are willing to put up a few thousands merely for experiments. We understand that you are not yet able to promise certain results—if you were your demand would be for millions instead of thousands, and you would be in a position to demand them." With this assurance I returned to Washington and resumed teaching, having postponed further experiments until after the coming campaign, in which I expect to take an active part.
EVERY MAN HIS OWN AIRSHIP
With the establishment of control over the law of gravitation, flying machines would cease to be a need of the world, for then all that would be necessary to enable one to fly would be for a man to charge himself with positive electricity to an extent which would make him lighter than air, and he would rise from the surface of the earth like a balloon.
A small gasolene or other motor operating a swift propeller, and a rudder, and motion in any direction would be accomplished.
In order to descend, it would be necessary to carry on the upward flight a storage battery containing a supply of the negative current, and by turning this on himself the mid-air traveler would negate the positive charge and slowly descend to earth.
With such a plan, however, the storage battery would become all-essential, and what would happen if the soarer should lose both his battery and his propeller, thus being obliged to remain suspended in the upper aerial strata for want of a ladder on which to descend, is a phase of the matter which it is unpleasant to dwell.
This idea suggests another one—that of the safe, humane and speedy disposition of criminals under capital sentence. All that would be necessary would be to send the condemned man aloft without motor or storage cylinder, charging him heavily with the "Scharf current," and he would simply fly off into space and become a minute speck of star dust, or perhaps form the nebula for a new planet.
Here naturally occurs an eerie suggestion—that of the possibility of forcing this current into unwilling subjects, and thus compelling them to take unexpected flights to Mars or elsewhere.
Why could not any one who knew how to control this mystic field send a charge into his dearest enemy, while the latter was devoid of propeller or anti-charge, and thus send him spinning off into the unknown?
Should this cherished ambition be realized there will be some lively moving days and giant kaleidoscopic effects for the inhabitants of this mundane sphere in the future. The Washington monument, that massive and beloved shaft which towers above all other obelisks in the world, may become a tourist, and go the rounds of American cities, historic battlefields, expositions, and patriotic celebrations, with greater ease than has the Liberty bell been transported from its revered domicile in the Quaker city.
More than that—it could be towed behind any sea-going tug to our world-scattered provinces, by imbuing it with sufficient force to make it float on the water.
Who knows but that when Aladdin rubbed his magic lamp and summoned the genii to do his bidding, the huge black employed in producing such marvelous results the "Scharf force."
The Washington professor holds as within the area of probability, when his experiments shall have been completed, that massive blocks of granite, giant pieces of mechanism, heavily laden trains and lofty buildings will be as easily elevated and shifted about as pawns on a chessboard!
If ponderous freight trains of a hundred cars may be lightened with as much ease as he was on the scales, then the problem of transportation will have been reduced to a minimum.
Another possibility which presents itself is of the moving order, and truly as fascinating as the Arabian Nights Tales. Swiftly growing New York, with its ever changing centers of activity, may become the arena of genuine elevated traffic and of real rapid transit before another century dawns.
Fancy Greater New York reaching to Poughkeepsie on the north and to Montauk Point on the east. Imagine the rush hour on "moving day," May 1, 1999. A vast army of workers, imbued with the "Scharf current," and with the "negating cylinders" as closely guarded as the present New Yorker clutches his transfer slip, will be self-propelled "down-town" to Harlem, or across town from the present sandy stretches of Long Island. Above the city's hum they will meet, moving, like themselves, the Flatiron Building, old Trinity Church, two score giant skyscrapers and a bridge or two from the East or North Rivers, similarly possessed of the anti-gravitation impulse, and the never-ending desire to get "up town" to new and more suitable locations.
War methods will be revolutionized, if some pacific arbitration tribunal, like that at The Hague, shall not have put an end to the strife between nations.
Submarine boats charged with the elevating current will steal under immense battleships and silently charging them with the deadly fluid, send them into space in the twinkling of an eye.
Then swift and terrible indeed will be the destruction wrought by contending hosts in battle. Vast armies of invaders will, when properly equipped with the elevating current and propulsionary apparatus, rise above the obstacles of transportation, ignore the forts and destroyers of their foe, turn on the "juice," and move with awful swiftness toward and over the enemy's strongholds.
Then will come a clash in midair. It will be as easy for the gunners to train the heaviest pieces of field artillery upon the opposing force as it now is for the street gamin to aim his popgun. After the carnage victors and vanquished will alike descend with the aid of the negating current and settle down to a truce on the plains or in the valleys beneath.