At the present moment, electro-magnetism, as a moving power, is engaging great attention and study; wonders are expected from its application to this purpose. According to the sanguine expectations of many persons, it will shortly be employed to put into motion every kind of machinery, and amongst other things it will be applied to impel the carriages of railroads, and this at so small a cost, that expense will no longer be matter of consideration. England is to lose her superiority as a manufacturing country, inasmuch as her vast store of coals will no longer avail her as an economical source of motive power. “We,” say the German cultivators of this science, “have cheap zinc, and, how small a quantity of this metal is required to turn a lathe, and consequently to give motion to any kind of machinery!”
Such expectations may be very attractive, and yet they are altogether illusory! they will not bear the test of a few simple calculations; and these our friends have not troubled themselves to institute.
With a simple flame of spirits of wine, under a proper vessel containing boiling water, a small carriage of 200 to 300 pounds weight can be put into motion, or a weight of 80 to 100 pounds may be raised to a height of 20 feet. The same effects may be produced by dissolving zinc in dilute sulphuric acid in a certain apparatus. This is certainly an astonishing and highly interesting discovery; but the question to be determined is, which of the two processes is the least expensive?
In order to answer this question, and to judge correctly of the hopes entertained from this discovery, let me remind you of what chemists denominate “equivalents.” These are certain unalterable ratios of effects which are proportionate to each other, and may therefore be expressed in numbers. Thus, if we require 8 pounds of oxygen to produce a certain effect, and we wish to employ chlorine for the same effect, we must employ neither more nor less than 35 1/2 pounds weight. In the same manner, 6 pounds weight of coal are equivalent to 32 pounds weight of zinc. The numbers representing chemical equivalents express very general ratios of effects, comprehending for all bodies all the actions they are capable of producing.