Maker Birthdays: Jules Verne

Maker Birthdays: Jules Verne

Today is Jules Verne’s birthday. Verne was born in Nantes, France on February 8, 1828 and died on March 24, 1905. Along with H.G. Wells, his work gave birth to the science fiction genre. One of the things Verne pioneered, and much of the sci-fi to follow has emulated, was writing about the fantastic upon a foundation of real science and engineering. I remember, when reading his works as a kid, marveling at how possible he made these adventures sound, to the moon, through the oceans, and to the center of the earth. Sure, a lot of it was pure fantasy and scientifically unsound (e.g. firing men to the moon in the barrel of a giant gun) but there was always enough reality behind it, and enough imaginative speculation, to fire ones imagination. And like a lot of sci-fi after him, Verne inspired generations of engineers, scientists, and garage makers to try and turn his fantasies into reality. And, of course, there’s the whole genre of steampunk, which likely wouldn’t exist without Jules Verne. So Happy Birthday, Jules, from the entire maker community.

BTW: Wikipedia points out some fascinating similarities between Verne’s trip to the moon in From the Earth to the Moon and the Apollo missions:

The story is also notable in that Verne attempted to do some rough calculations as to the requirements for the cannon and, considering the total lack of any data on the subject at the time, some of his figures are surprisingly close to reality. However, his scenario turned out to be impractical for safe manned space travel since a much longer muzzle would have been required to reach escape velocity while limiting acceleration to survivable limits for the passengers.

The story bears similarities to the real-life Apollo program:

  • Verne’s cannon was named the Columbiad; the Apollo 11 command module was named Columbia.
  • The spacecraft crew consisted of three persons in each case.
  • The physical dimensions of the projectile are very close to the dimensions of the Apollo CSM.
  • Verne’s voyage blasted off from Florida, as did all Apollo missions. (Verne correctly states in the book that objects launch into space most easily if they are launched from the earth’s equator. In the book Florida and Texas compete for the launch, with Florida winning.)

In honor of Verne’s Birthday, I’m reposting the most-excellent Jake von Slate/Steampunk piece from Make: television, episode 103. It’s a full-featured documentary on steampunk, in a 10-minute TV segment. I think it perfectly captures the adventure, romance, and technology of steampunk, and the spirit of Verne in the process.

Jake Von Slatt invites us into the alternate universe of Steampunk. As leading figures in the Boston arts community, members of Steampunk combine the power of modern technology with the grace and intricacy of Victorian design. Working with brass, recycled items and found objects, Jake and other Steampunkers party like it’s 1899, bringing old-world, steam engined-inspired touches to everything from computers to flatscreen television. Plus, watch the story of steam power, from the first crude water pump to a bionic arm. Watch the clip, and visit

Sift through all of Make: Blog’s steampunk coverage here.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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