Words That Men Live By
Owen D. Young (1934)
CONWAY, Ark., Nov. 20, 1934 – Owen D. Young, well known as a financier but more importantly to himself a dedicated disciple of education, came to this relatively small town, to Hendrix College, to receive a proffered degree and in return describe his conception of “culture.”
Aside from his many achievements and honors in the field of domestic and international business and finance, Mr. Young’s homely treatise – illustrated by an article which has been developed to high efficiency under his direction, the electric lamp – places him alongside famous professionals in the educational field.
Culture represents a synthesis, a putting together of things, putting them together so completely that the combination has an individuality of its own. It may be only an amalgam; it is better if it is a chemical combination. I think of it in this way . . .Printable version
The vital part of the incandescent electric lamp is the tungsten wire inside the bulb. The great invention in that lamp was the discovery of a way to convert metallic tungsten into wire. It was well known that this metal would withstand the high heat required for incandescence over a long period without disintegration, but it was also known that tungsten was once of the most recalcitrant of the metals. Each particle was such a rugged individuals that it would have nothing to do with its neighbor. It seemed to have no social sense at all.
The first tungsten lamps contained so-called “pressed” filaments. The metal was subjected to tremendous pressures in small grooves the size of a wire. It was found that if pressure enough could be applied, the particles would hold together in what appeared to be a wire, sufficient to enable this fragile string to be placed into a lamp. The lamps were shipped to their destinations in cushions and finally with the greatest care inserted in the sockets.
They gave excellent light, cut all of us older people can remember that if the children played tag once around the dining-room table all the lights went out. One day, courageous and daring men determined that that obstinate metal should be conquered, and it was. With high heats and extraordinarily ingenious methods, tungsten was so converted that it could be drawn into wire, and the wire became stronger than steel of equivalent size.
You must fuse at white heat the several particles of your learning into an element so ductible and so strong that nothing can destroy it without destroying you.
Let me be a little more specific. What is the use of studying Greek unless you can bring all the beauty of that language and literature into your thinking and your expression today? What is the use of studying Latin unless you can get through it a better understanding, a more complete feeling of the mighty activities in their heights and depths that made Rome both glorious and ignoble? What is the use of studying French unless through a wider outlook and more varied contacts that language brings to you a better understanding of the world in which you live and an appreciation of that grace which is the basis of good manners?
What is the use if studying history without co-relating it with the economics, which for the most part has been its master? What is the use of studying economics or politics without relating them both to a knowledge of the physical sciences which shape their courses? You have only to look beyond this campus today to see that the problems both of economics and of politics arise out of the machines, which the research workers of the world have made.
My point is that it is not enough for you to study economics in an insulated compartment and history and governments and the languages and science. It is not enough to gather them up as separate particles into a powder, which you carry out with your diploma. They must be fused and integrated.