University of Toronto
Scientific Instruments Collection

About the UTSIC

The UTSIC project is the latest attempt to create a catalogued collection of historical scientific instruments at the University of Toronto. This effort began in 1978 when the Advisory Committee on Historic Scientific Apparatuses commissioned an extensive report on the possibility of establishing a science museum involving a systematic cataloguing of the instruments on campus.
The science museum did not come to pass. The catalogue was completed, though an institutional system to keep it up to date as well as to build and to safeguard the collection was not implemented. Various committees over the subsequent years fared little better. The original card catalogue, still extant, is a testament to this. Many of the instruments it identifies have since been discarded in the relentless process of expansion and renewal at the science departments.
Thanks to the efforts of a few, however, many instruments do remain. It is the goal of the UTSIC project to catalogue them, to ensure their long term storage, and to lobby for the implementation of a new program for the care of the material heritage of the scientific research at this university so that, over time, a well documented, extensive, and properly protected collection will develop.
The online catalogue is a key step in this process. It is a means to organize and track this widely dispersed collection as well as a resource for researchers working in academic disciplines such as the histories of science, material culture and technology. It will also appeal, we hope, to a broader audience and generally raise awareness, within the university community, of the importance of preserving the material evidence of scientific research.
The UTSIC project is a volunteer effort on the part of graduate students and faculty at the University of Toronto. It is based primarily at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science which remains the force behind the ongoing effort to create an instrument collection. Faculty and students from other departments are involved as well. We hope that the UTSIC project will provide the foundation for a university wide effort. It is clear, today as in 1978, that if the University of Toronto is ever to join other leading research universities in building a museum to display its scientific heritage, it will first need a properly catalogued collection of instruments.

UTSIC Collections (in Progress):

The IHPST Collection

This collection contains objects obtained by the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IHPST) since its foundation in 1967. Since the late ‘70s, the IHPST had been at the forefront of efforts to organise a university-wide collection of historically-significant scientific instruments. As a result of these efforts, various instruments have accumulated at the department over the years. Many of these are private donations from the Toronto area.

Due to the prevalence of donated objects, this is a rather ad hoc collection containing instruments from a variety of scientific contexts. Not all of these instruments were used at the University of Toronto. In future, some of these instruments may be reincorporated into other UTSIC collections as further provenance information becomes available.

The L. E. Jones Collection of Mechanical Calculating Instruments.

This collection is unlike the others in the UTSIC catalogue in that few, if any, of the instruments that it contains were at the University of Toronto. Rather, it based on the private collection of U of T Professor of Mechanical Engineering L. E. (Ted) Jones (d. June 23rd, 1999.) Professor Jones’ collection was donated to the IHPST by his son James Llewellyn Jones in 2002.

Because of the special nature of the collection—it represents a particular type of technology rather than an institutional context—the UTSIC will gratefully accept donations of mechanical calculating instruments to augment the collection.

The Botany Collection

The small number of botany instruments currently listed in the catalogue was acquired by the IHPST from the Department of Botany department in 2004.

The Department of Botany (no longer in existence) also has a number of older instruments. These were previously catalogued by the UTMuSI online museum and are listed here. These instruments will eventually be added to the current catalogue.

The Psychology Collection

The Psychology Collection features some of the oldest psychological laboratory instruments in North America. The Department of Philosophy (from which the Department of Psychology gradually emerged) acquired its first set of dedicated instruments in 1891. These were purchased two years after the controversial hiring of the the young Princeton graduate James Mark Baldwin (1861-1934) who replaced the recently-deceased Professor of Metaphysics George Paxton Young (1818-1889). Baldwin, and his eventual successor August Kirschmann (1860-1932)—a former student of “the father of experimental psychology”, Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920)brought the teaching of experimental psychology to Toronto.

Aside from a temporary lab set of by Raymond Bernard Cattell (1905-1998)  at Cambridge, the Toronto's four-room psychological laboratory was the first of its kind in the British Empire. The recently-founded laboratory was described by Baldwin in the journal Science in 1892. Bursar records show that initial purchases included a Stereoscope, a Zeiss microscope, the Hipp Chronoscope (possibly the highlight of the psychology collection, certainly the centerpiece of the early laboratory), and a model of the brain. Other early instruments related to vision, such as the Phaenophthalmotrop and the Colour Blind Apparatus, were likely purchased under Kirschmann, an expert in that area.

The Psychology collection also includes a large amount of more recent material, such a collection of psychological tests which will catalogued separately. Once the early material has been accessioned, the focus will turn to more recent instruments. It is hoped that the online records of the Psychology Collection will come to represent an ongoing material archive of psychological experimentation at the University of Toronto, not simply its early years.  

For and earlier description of the Psychology Collection, including a detailed bibliography, see here

The Physics Collection

The history of the Physics collection begins in 1878, when James Loudon secured $12,000 from the university of Toronto to establish the first physical laboratory in Canada. Loudon’s achievement, the establishment of the School of Practical Science (1878) and later the Department of Physics (1887) would be instrumental in imbuing the University of Toronto with a mandate of scientific research and education, which remains very much alive today.

Many objects in the Physics collection date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and some were even purchased by Loudon himself. However the collection spans the majority of the 20th century and contains instruments that were manufactured as late as the 1960s or 70s. While many instruments were purchased abroad, some were created locally, as the demand for easily (and cheaply) made goods was high, particularly in the early days of the Physical Laboratory. The majority of the instruments in the Physics collection were used for teaching, not research, although there several notable objects used for research nevertheless remain.

The Physics collection hopes not only to preserve the material heritage of physics education and research at the University of Toronto but also to tell the story of changing attitudes with respect to which aspects of physics were considered important for research and education. While the instruments purchased at a given time reflect the general state of the discipline, they also reflect the specific interests of physics professors, especially it’s department heads.

For instance, the Koenig collection, so extensive that UTSIC has given it is own classification, deals with acoustical instruments, a particular interest of Loudon who was himself a close friend of acoustical Parisian instrument maker Rudolph Koenig. However, the collection of cathode ray tubes, most of which were likely acquired during the early decades of the 20th century, better reflect Loudon's successor, John C. McLennan, who ran the department of Physics from 1906 until the 1930s. The intellectual interests of McLennan, who used cathode ray tubes while studying under J. J. Thomson in Cambridge, remain in the material form of several dozen Crookes, Geissler, cathode ray, and x-ray tubes, which have fortunately survived the ravages of time.

As with all collections at UTSIC, the Physics collection is growing, both in sheer size as well asdepth of research. With further research into the Physics collection the UTSIC hopes that the story of Physics at the University of Toronto, in Canada, and more generally, can better be told.