National Museum of American History (U.S.). Division of Physical Sciences.

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In 1885 a Section of Steam Transportation was created in the Department of Arts and Industries, United States National Museum. This section was the parent of all the subsequent sections, divisions and departments which dealt with the history of science, technology, and instrumentation. In 1890 a Section of Physical Apparatus was established in the Department of Arts and Industries with William Crawford Winlock as Honorary Curator. In 1897 the Section became the Mechanical Phases collection in the Division of Technology, curated by J. Elfreth Watkins.

In 1938 the Section of Physical Sciences and Measurement was created from the Section of Mechanical Technology of the Division of Engineering. Frank A. Taylor, Curator of Engineering, assumed curatorial responsibility for Physical Sciences and Measurement, serving in this capacity until 1955. His successor, Robert P. Multhauf, was Curator of the Section from 1955 to 1957. In 1957 the Section of Physical Sciences and Measurement became the Division of Physical Sciences, Department of Science and Technology, in the Museum of History and Technology (MHT). Multhauf served as Curator of the Division until the position was assigned to Susan Faye Cannon (prior to 1976, Walter F. Cannon) in 1965.

In 1965 a Section of Mathematics and Antique Instruments was created in the Division of Physical Sciences under Uta C. Merzbach, Associate Curator. The Section was renamed the Section of Mathematics in 1968, and Merzbach reported to Silvio A. Bedini, Assistant Director for the Museum. In 1970 the Section of Mathematics became part of the Division of Electricity and Nuclear Energy. From 1974 to 1977, the Section of Mathematics reported to the Chairman of the Department of Science and Technology. In 1978 it became the Division of Mathematics in the Department of History of Science; and in 1987, it merged with the Division of Physical Sciences to form the Division of Physical Sciences and Mathematics within the Department of History of Science and Technology. In 1989 the name of the Division became Physical and Biological Sciences, and in 1990 the name reverted to the Division of Physical Sciences. Around 1994 the Division ceased to be a reporting office and was merged into the Division of Science, Medicine, and Society.

Research and collections of the Division of Physical Sciences principally focused on the history of astronomy, meteorology, chemistry, classical physics, geology, astrophysics, and mathematics. The Division of Mathematics and its predecessors were concerned with the history of mathematical calculating instruments, both domestic and foreign, dating back to the eighteenth century. The Division prepared exhibitions for the Hall of Mathematics and collected artifacts such as planimeters, slide rules, mechanical calculators, digital electronic computers, and astrolabes.

Curators and staff of the Division included Robert P. Multhauf, Curator of the Section of Physical Sciences and Measurement, 1955-1957, Curator of the Division of Physical Sciences, 1957-1965; Susan Faye Cannon, Associate Curator, 1962-1964, Curator, 1965-1979; Lester Clark Lewis, Curator, 1962; Uta C. Merzbach, Associate Curator and Curator, 1964-1988; Deborah Jean Warner, Assistant Curator, 1964-1966, 1968-1969, Associate Curator, 1970-1979, Curator, 1980-1994; and Jon B. Eklund, Assistant Curator, 1968-1969, Associate Curator, 1970-1982, and Curator, 1983-1994.

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Agency History. Record 218191

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Active 1890

Active 1994

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