Even the history of technology can be manipulated

By Robert Grauenfels © 2010

Version en français

On the Internet one can find often misleading information, even on serious sites that are not pursuing other goals but the free access to the knowledge.
During the cold war in communist countries the usage of fake information and counterfactual history were the official policy, even for less controversial subjects like the history of the technology.
In this page I will show one example of how history of technology was changed by communist propaganda in Eastern Europe.
The following pictures are scanned from a 1951 slide film. The film was made for the secondary schools in Romania. There are 86 frames and the title is “From the rock hammer to the automated factory”, so it’s basically a history of technology for young. In those years Stalinism was at pinnacle and the Soviet Union was imposing its rule over the Eastern Europe countries.
It’s easy to see the Russian nationalist side of the Soviet Empire. Their propaganda in Eastern Europe was based on half-truths and was meant not only to show the superiority of communism but also to make the idea of a great Russia (communist or not).

Cugnot russe

Translation of the text:
“The steam power was used for the first time for some mechanical movements in industry by the Russian technician Ivan Ivanovici Polzunov. Soon the steam will conquer the first place for operating all kinds of machines”

My comment:
The picture represents, without a doubt, the steam-propelled mechanical vehicle of the French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot. Even if it seems true that Ivan Ivanovici Polzunov was an inventor, he created the first steam engines in Russia, not in the world. No word about James Watt or Denis Papin.


Translation of the text:
“The work of Russian savants Lenz, Yablochkov, Iacovi and Dobrovolski in the field of electricity made possible the production (by the means of turbines and dynamos) and the utilisation of electrical energy on a large scale.”

My comment:
It’s true that Lenz had an important contribution (Faraday's & Lenz’s law of induction) but nothing is mentioned about the contribution of “savants” from other countries (like Faraday, Volta, Tesla, Siemens etc.). Dobrovolski (born in Ukraine) worked and studied in Germany.

tour parallèle

Translation of the text:
“The lathe with metallic support for the tool made by the talented artisan Andrej Konstatinowitsch Nartov opens large perspectives for the precise processing of metal parts.”

My comment:
The lathe is no single-man invention. Its roots dates back in antiquity and was improved through the ages. The text is misleading; it can leave the impression that Nartov was the inventor of the lathe. By the way, a research for Nartov on the Internet dates his inventions in the first half of the 18th century, before the industrial revolution.

Nikolaï Joukovski

Translation of the text:
“The sky is conquered for the transportation, too. Only 50 years ago the well-informed inventor Joukovski issued the principles of the flying”

My comment:
At least they didn’t put a picture of the first planes. Joukovski (Zhukovsky) is considered the father of the Russian aviation, but to ignore all the others pioneers of flying from around the world makes the text a shameless lie.

Irrigation au Japon

Translation of the text:
“Even in today’s Japan irrigation is made as in the times of slavery”.

My comment:
Why Japan as an example of under-development? Well, because in 1951 Japan was still under USA occupation. So, this is a way to pass the idea that Americans want to keep other countries in a state of under-development. This is one clear example how ideology tries to manipulate the truth. The film should be about the history of technology, but no chance should be missed by the communist propaganda for a brain wash.

Irrigation URSS

Translation of the text:
“Of comrade Stalin initiative grandiose projects are fulfilled for the forestation and irrigation which will transform the climate and will raise the productivity of lands for large regions affected by drought.”

My comment:
In the image there is the Caspian See and at right the Aral See. Aral was the largest lake in the world, but today is one of the largest ecological disasters in the world. At least the communist propaganda was right: they managed to change the climate.

tracteur électrique

Translation of the text:
” On the vast lands of kolkhoz [collective farms] the electrical tractor appears.”

My comment:
The collective farms were formed by seizing (often by force) the lands from the peasants. The goal of propaganda is to convince the people that the hard manual labour will be replaced by high-technology machines. For the year 1951 this is Science-Fiction.

As a conclusion, I think this article has not only some historical interest but even nowadays it’s important to pay attention at the source of information. On Internet it’s easy to fall in the trap of misinformation. Some people have nationalistic or political interests to deform the truth. This type of propaganda had left traces in the mind of many eastern-Europeans: a lack of interest for the ecology (destroy the nature for grandiose projects, why not?), a feeling that the Western countries are ignoring their scientific contributions and so on.

Maybe the worst feeling is that everything is propaganda and the truth is relative. I don’t think so and I hope that even on Internet historians and archivists will find their place.
By the way, I’m no historian, I’m an engineer.


Last version: July the 24th, 2011

contact: robert[at]grauenfels.fr

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