Wiechert Horizontal Seismograph

Finding traces of an 1889 Tokyo earthquake on his seismograph in Karlsruhe, Germany, the physicist Ernst von Rebeur-Paschwitz realized that instruments had become sufficiently powerful that seismologists need no longer confine their work to regions where the earth shook beneath them. Rebeur-Paschwitz then proposed the establishment of a worldwide seismic network. The International Seismology Association was formed in 1904 and, in 1906, offered a prize for the best inexpensive seismograph. It was in this context that Spindler & Hoyer, an instrument firm in Göttingen, introduced smaller and less costly versions of the horizontal and vertical seismographs designed Emil Wiechert, professor of geophysics at the University of Göttingen.
Frederick Oldenbach, S.J., a professor at Saint Ignatius College in Cleveland, O., had long been interested in meteorology and seismology. In 1909 he circulated a proposal for a network of Jesuit seismological stations that, in the words of one historian, would obtain “widespread publicity and general acclaim in a culture that celebrated science.” Each of these stations—15 in the United States and one in Canada—would have a pair of 80-kilogram Wiechert seismographs made by Spindler & Hoyer. Georgetown University, the oldest and most renowned Jesuit college in the country, got its first seismographs later that year and put them in the hands of Francis Anthony Tondorf, S.J., a physicist who had received some graduate training at The Johns Hopkins University.
Father Tondorf was wonderfully energetic and charismatic and, over the course of the next 18 years, convinced wealthy alumni to provide funds for several more instruments. Among these was a second Wiechert-type horizontal seismograph made by Spindler & Hoyer that, with a 200-kilogram weight, was substantially larger and more stable than the earlier one. As before, however, registration occurred on a smoked paper mounted on a rotating aluminum cylinder. This is that instrument. It was at Georgetown by 1915 and it came to the Smithsonian in 1965.
Ref: Communications Concerning a New Horizontal and Vertical Seismograph after Prof. Dr. Wiechert (Gottingen: Spindler & Hoyer, 1908); this includes German and French editions of the text.
“Seismographs of Washington,” Modern Mechanics (1915): 297-299.
Johannes Schweitzer, “Early German Contributions to Modern Seismology.” http://www.dgg-online.de/geschichte/johannes/CH 79-24CDpartA.pdf
Carl-Henry Geschwind, “Embracing Science and Research: Early Twentieth-Century Jesuits and Seismology in the United States,” Isis 89 (1998): 27-49.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Spindler & Hoyer
place made
Deutschland: Niedersachsen, Göttingen
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
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Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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