Congressmen Wanted to Control Gasoline (Parable about atomic power)

On April 17, 1958 the Brownsville (TX) Herald published an editorial titled “Congressmen Wanted to Control Gasoline.” It was aimed at actions by the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy and the Atomic Energy Commission to maintain nearly total control of all aspects of atomic power generation.

As described by Snopes, excerpts from this ancient editorial have become part of urban legend as a story about the “Horseless Carriage Committee” and used in a number of disparate situations.

I thought the editorial is worth sharing. (Note: I have computed a high likelihood that copyrights on this piece have long ago expired; it was printed before I was born.)

From April 17, 1958 Editorial Features Brownsville Herald (page 5-C)

Congressmen Wanted to Control Gasoline

Individually, we tend to learn from experience. Collectively, if mankind can be viewed as a collective, we tend to repeat the same old mistakes.

The differences between the government of Julius Caesar and of Dwight Eisenhower are minor and of academic interest. The parallels are startling and numerous.

To illustrate just how the same old fallacies repeat year after year, we reproduce here a special report by a Joint Congressional Committee on the subject of the horseless carriage. This report was made as a result of the “emergency” occasioned by the development of the internal combustion engine in the year 1875.

“A new source of power, which burns a distillate of kerosene called gasoline, has been produced by a Boston engineer. Instead of burning the fuel under a boiler, it is exploded inside the cylinder of the engine. This so-called internal combustion engine may be used under certain circumstances to supplement steam engines. Experiments are under way to use such an engine to propel a vehicle.

“This discovery begins a new era in the history of civilization. It may some day prove to be more revolutionary in the development of human society than the invention of the wheel, the use of metals or the steam engine. Never in history has society been confronted with a power so full of promise for the future of man and for the peace of the world.

✓ ✓ ✓

The dangers are obvious. Stores of gasoline in the hands of the people interested primarily in profit, would constitute a fire and explosive hazard of the first rank. Horseless carriages propelled by gasoline engines might attain speeds of 15 or even 20 miles per hour. The menace to our people of vehicles of this type hurtling through our streets and along our roads and poisoning the atmosphere would call for prompt legislative action even if the military and economic implications were not so overwhelming. The Secretary of War has testified before us and has pointed out the destructive effects of the use of such vehicles in battle. A few of them, with a small cannon mounted behind a steel shield, could destroy infantry, break up a calvary charge, and even seriously threaten field artillery by lightning-like flank attacks. Furthermore, our supplies of petroleum, from which gasoline can be extracted only in limited quantities, make it imperative that the defense forces should have first call on the limited supply.

✓ ✓ ✓

Furthermore, the cost of producing it is far beyond the financial capacity of private industry, yet the safety of the nation demands that an adequate supply should be produced. In addition, the development of this new power may displace the use of horses, which would wreck our agriculture. We therefore earnestly recommend that Congress set up a Horseless Carriage Commission which shall have complete control of all sources of gasoline and similar explosive elements and all activities connected with their development and use in the United States.

“These measures may seem drastic and far-reaching, but the discovery with which we are dealing involves forces of a nature too dangerous to fit into any of our usual concepts.”

As a precise modern parallel, today’s government controls all atomic power. Until such time as our nation’s businessmen can get their hands on this tremendous source of energy without government regulations, ownership or control, this power will be used principally for destructive purposes. Only individual free men can and will convert energy into useful channels. Governments are political and war-making entities and as such will inevitably follow the same old collectivist road.

From my point of view, the editorial writer was overlooking the primary reason that governments tend to try to control new products and capabilities — they are designed and powerfully motivated to protect incumbent interests from upstart competitors.

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