Delegates at the ICHSTM learned how 'burning bottle' devices were used during the Winter War of 1939 to 1940 (Credit: Corbis)

Manchester conference 'the biggest of its kind'

Contrary to popular belief, the Molotov cocktail was not invented in the Soviet Union.

In fact, as delegates learned at the 24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine (ICHSTM) in July, the ‘burning bottle’ devices were first mass-produced and tested against the Soviet tanks during the so-called ‘Winter War’ of 1939-1940 (when Molotov was the USSR’s Minister for Foreign Affairs).

More than 200 Soviet tanks were destroyed with the help of that fairly unsophisticated product of Finnish military engineering, made initially at a bottling plant of an alcoholic drinks factory.

In adjoining conference rooms, Chris van Schaardenburgh of Coventry Transport Museum was delivering a paper on the legacy of the British wartime motor industry; Wofgang Konig of TU Berlin was describing the attempts of Alois Riedler (1850-1936), one of Germany’s most prominent professors of mechanical engineering, to integrate theory and practice in German engineering education around 1900; and Vasily Borisov of the Russian Academy of Sciences was discussing the echoes of Nikola Tesla’s invention of ‘death rays’ in the USSR in the 1930s.

The congress, held at the University of Manchester, was distinguished by scope and the versatility of subjects.

Dr Alexander Hall of the university’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine told E&T it was so far the largest meeting of this kind, “featuring nearly 1,400 papers across 23 parallel tracks; 411 sessions; around 100 public events, and 1,758 registered delegates from over 60 countries, with over 200 delegates from the USA alone. A truly international, vibrant and enjoyable gathering”.

Professor Hasok Chang, president of the British Society for the History of Science, which hosted the Congress, explained that medicine was added to the main agenda this year for the first time, “because it is interesting to see how it interacts with technology and science”.

One of the side events in Manchester was a party to celebrate the 70th birthday of Annals of Science, claimed to be the world’s oldest history of science and technology journal, which first came out in 1936 (it stopped appearing temporarily during World War Two), and is now read in over 60 countries. For the last 32 years it has been published by the UK-based Taylor & Francis Group.

“Having the journal still being physically printed and popular is not a small achievement by modern Web-dominated standards,” said Professor Trevor Levere, the current editor. “We started in 1936 and we are still here, continuing to unite the intellectual community of historians.”

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