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30,000 Scientific Instruments: The Pride of Garland

Upon entering Sarah Shannon Stevenson Science & Engineering Library, you can’t help but notice the fascinating instruments in glass cases. Gaze in wonder at the antique design of the microscope or the condenser. These advanced apparatuses embodied Vanderbilt’s attempt to become a university renowned for the sciences.

In preparation for the first classes in the Scientific and Literary Department in 1875,  Chancellor Garland meticulously made order after order, accumulating over 300 different scientific instruments.

He openly boasted about his state of the art scientific equipment in a letter he wrote: “Vanderbilt will be placed in the front rank of American Universities, we desire all its apparatus to be of the best quality.”  

These instruments created a new opportunity for research and classroom instruction. The carbon arc projector shined a beam of light when ignited by electrodes in a glass tube. The electric tuning fork (left) produced a wide range of pitches based on how much electricity was applied to the metal fork. Such objects brought scientific teachings to life through the sights and sounds of classroom demonstrations.

Garland proudly showed visitors his collection of tools, which he used to mount rigorous defense of Vanderbilt as an institution of higher education. Indeed, upon observation, one would gasp at these exciting inventions which were the most advanced instruments of their time. The instruments were new and exciting, bringing to a flourishing science curriculum.