Thursday Trivia

Thirsday Trivia
Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars!
This week’s question: What was the deadly reason Dr. Dionysus Lardner supposedly gave explaining that high-speed rail wouldn’t work?
If you think you know the answer, make the jump and see if you are right.
Speed is a desired commodity. We all want to get things quicker, sooner, faster, and that’s been the case ever since man started running away from sabretooth cats and people wanting to talk to them about Jesus.

Dionysius Lardner,
Dionysius Lardner, Prognosticator

We have for some time been able to achieve great speeds, and as such, society has been forced – for safety reasons – to moderate them with speed limits. Of course, before limits were set to manage safe passage at least one notable individual reportedly suggested that there was physical limit to a human’s ability to withstand the speeds that the then new steam locomotives would be capable of.
From: Madera Tribune:
Maderans, like myself, who oppose high-speed rail coming through our city might have taken comfort from a statement made by Dr. Dionysius Lardner, professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College in London. The learned scientist, who died in 1859, said, “Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.
This quote has long been attributed to Lardner, so much so that it has entered common lore. There is however, no record of it actually being an opinion he held. It was a generally held urban myth however that trains traveling long stretches of open track would be able to gain such heady speeds – perhaps as high as 55 miles per hour – that it would create an impenetrable air bubble in which the passengers would lowly asphyxiate. It’s also something Lardner would have said.
Larder was an academic, entering Trinity College, Dublin at age 19 where he gained a Master of Arts degree. He parlayed his studious skills in the publishing of several books on mathematics, and in his work as a lecturer. It was however his consultation for a railroad company seeking to kill a competitor’s contract where his infamy was secured.
Lardner provided several critiques of the rival’s equipment, claiming the locomotive wouldn’t work at its scale, and the proposed route. All of his claims were debunked by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the competing railroad’s builder and one of Victorian Great Britain’s greatest engineers. Eventually Lardner’s mistakes and miscalculations made him the laughing stock of both academia and industry. Oh and don’t worry about not being able to breathe on that commute today.


  1. This is the first Hooniverse question I could answer with knowledge acquired via curriculum in middle school. And then you go on to say that it might not even be a true and appropriate quote. Heartbreaking!

    1. Do you really want to be freaked out? I first heard about this from a Saturday morning TV Archie Cartoon when I was a kid!

  2. I hope this generation gives the next one such bitchin’ names as Dionysius and Isambard Kingdom. Reading the history of the Industrial Revolution is a hobby of mine (since I dropped out of actually majoring in it) and it’s always a real joy to see the names people used to go by.

        1. Don’t forget the countless kids named after movie adaptations of young adult fantasy/sci-fi novels.

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