"THE DYNAMO AND
He found himself lying in the Gallery of Machines at the Great Exposition of 1900, his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new.
-- Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams
On the evening of Friday, September 1, 1871, the crew of the Henry Taber, a whaler out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, lined the deck where they witnessed a preview of their own fate. In the near distance, the three-masted bark Roman could be heard groaning like a stricken animal as it was being enveloped by giant blocks of pack ice. Five minutes later, to the staccato sound of snapping timbers, its officers and crew took to the whaleboats and rowed for the Henry Taber, where they were taken aboard. The combined crews then watched in terrified silence as the doomed vessel's masts went over the side. Moments later, its bow pointing skyward, the Roman slipped below the gray waters stern first.
In years past the gamble had always paid off -- and had paid off handsomely. In midsummer the whaling fleet would pass through the ribbon of shallow seawater known as the Bering Strait and set a northerly course into the recesses of the Arctic Ocean. Their quarry was the bowhead, a subspecies of right whale that yielded an incredible 120 barrels of oil per animal. Once processed, the rich liquid became the source of clean and odorless artificial light and served as a lubricant for timepieces and the precision machinery of the industrial revo-