The heroic German engineer

In an early fictional work, a German engineer saves Germany—and Europe

In 1910, Ross obtained his doctorate degree in mechanical engineering and metallurgy. His earliest publications reflect his immersion in the theme of his dissertation project on iron ore smelting plants: a popular-science book on the production of iron in Germany, and articles about different forms of energy production to run industrial factories. He rounds out this first chapter of his writing career with a short science fiction text, ‘Als der Welt Kohle und Eisen ausging’ (When the world ran out of coal and iron; 1913), set in the mines and iron smelting plants of his studies. Here, the figure of the German engineer appears not only as a hero of his science, but of his nation, able to bring Germany into a position of leadership within Europe.

‘Als der Welt Kohle und Eisen ausging’ takes place in the year 1995, and both the US and China have closed their markets of coal and iron ore to foreign countries. European mines have long since run dry and the continent faces massive shortages. There seem to be only two options: either develop some way of mining more of these resources in Europe, or go to war against Asia to gain access to them. The nation’s leaders, thinking the former is impossible, mobilize the military for imminent war.

Enter Dr. Franz Wieser, associate professor of the Mining Academy in Klaustal. Wieser is an old friend of a mine’s director and he thinks that he might have a solution to the crisis. His studies of the Earth’s core have led him to conclude that the interior consists of iron in both liquid and gaseous form. He has developed a drill that is capable of reaching the necessary depths and is ready to put it to the test. Wieser and the mine director and head down into the deepest shaft of the mine to set up the equipment, while workers excavate basins and line channels to receive the molten iron. The drill has almost reached the core when the director meets with Wieser in the shaft. He realizes that his friend plans to remain there to monitor the drilling’s progress until the liquid iron starts to flow will ensure the project’s success but also certainly lead to his death. The two men stoically shake hands in solemn parting.

Hours later, as the liquid iron is flowing, the heroic act of the engineer is celebrated: he has sacrificed his life to save the thousands who would have fallen on the battlefield (written prior to World War I, the underestimation of the magnitude of death that would result from the impending war is significant). The military mobilization is reversed, and, most importantly, Germany leads Europe out of the crisis: “The other nations fell into line behind Germany, the more so as Germany had promised them deliveries of iron for the time being. And so, instead of the war alarm, the cry of ‘peace’ traveled through the land, and with it, the name of the man of genius and heroic courage who had paid for peace with his life”.

Kristin Kopp

Colin Ross. Als der Welt Kohle und Eisen ausging. In: Das Neue Universum 1913; 34: 165-178.

Topic: Engineering
Case: Geopolitics

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