Innovation is a long-standing tradition in Gainesville
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 at 7:07 p.m.
For all the bragging we've been doing, you might suppose that “Innovation Gainesville” is something we invented just yesterday.
But Gainesville has always been a city possessed of a robust intellectual curiosity.
Consider the great ice block duel of 1885. I ran across this epic tale of scientific pursuit while perusing Jess G. Davis' 1966 work “History of Gainesville, Florida.”
It all started when A. J. McArthur, a transplant from Wisconsin and inventor of one of the first refrigerated railroad cars, came to our fair city.
Up until then, ice had to be carved in great blocks out of frozen rivers and lakes up north, shipped to Fernandina on schooners and then transported overland by rail.
But that changed when McArthur built an ice plant near Sweetwater Branch.
“Then came the great debate in Gainesville,” Davis recounted. “Was artificial ice as good as lake ice?
The town was evenly divided on the subject.
“Then the ‘sports moved in.' Arrangements were made for a test and most of the male population bet two bits, 25 cents, to $10 on the outcome of the test, which was to determine which ice would melt faster.”
The great ice block melt-a-thon took place at 6 S Main St. in front of Otto Stock's Men's Store.
Two 100-pound blocks of ice — one home-made, one gouged out of some northern lake — were placed side by side. Guards were posted “to prevent any skullduggery.”
“All night long the watch was kept. Next morning no one could tell any difference in size of the competing blocks of ice.
“The day dragged on. People milled around. Several ladies drove by in their carriages, drawn by curiosity and the interest of the men-folk.”
And then things began to, uh, heat up.
“In the middle of the afternoon the ice started melting fast. About four o'clock the lake ice gave up the ghost and vanished, leaving the artificial ice victorious with only about a pound of ice left. Soon the ice vanished from the Gainesville market.”
Eureka! A triumph of science over nature.
McArthur, Davis judged, “should stand second to Dr. Gorrie, inventor of artificial ice, in the scientific field as one of the world's greatest blessings to mankind: Refrigeration.”
Presumably he was referring to McArthur's invention, not his sporting spirit.
Of course, if that experiment were to take place today we'd make a much bigger deal out of it.
Probably somebody over at the University of Florida would write a $2 million federal grant to monitor the meltdown with a mass-spectrometer, electron microscope and one of those little testing kits we use on our swimming pools.
A brash start-up company would announce that it had developed cutting-edge technology to retard the melt factor of lake ice, thus restoring thousands of jobs that had been presumed lost forever more than a century ago.
Naysayers would argue that it doesn't matter which block melts faster; once the biomass plant comes on line we won't be able to afford ice anyway.
And naturally Gov. Rick Scott would be there to cut a ribbon and announce that the whole shebang is proof that his job-creation program is working.
Ah, science. It's a Gainesville tradition.
Ron Cunningham is the former editorial page editor of The Sun.
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