Lumetron Colorimeter

This Lumetron Colorimeter Model 400-A was introduced in the 1940s by the Photovolt Corporation in New York, NY. It was used for many years by the Russian-born enologist André Tchelistcheff, at his various winery laboratories in California’s Napa Valley. Tchelistcheff had a tremendous impact on the development of the modern American wine industry.
Housed in a wooden box, the electrically-powered instrument includes two filter holders, a test tube carrier, a meter, and detailed instructions inside the lid. The instrument’s six glass filters cover the color spectrum—red, yellow-green, blue, orange, blue-green, and violet. The test tube carrier and the filter holders have metal knobs for ease of removal and the carrier has two holes for tubes with metal plaques noting “BLANK” and “SAMPLE” affixed above and below the holes respectively.
An ad for this instrument, published in the May 23, 1947 issue of Science Magazine, touted its use as a highly accurate device for determining the acidity (or pH) of a sample. It could also be used for the chemical analysis of color and turbidity in a liquid. All of these applications—measuring the pH and analyzing color and turbidity—are important aspects of work in a winery laboratory. Acid levels influence the flavor and texture of wine, and changes in a sample’s color and clarity indicate changes in its sensory characteristics as well.
André Tchelistcheff was born in Moscow in 1901; he and his family fled the country at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917. After receiving his degree in agricultural science at the University of Brno in Czechoslovakia, he moved to Paris, where he was employed at the Institute of National Agronomy outside the city. While there he was contacted in 1937 by Georges de Latour, of Napa Valley’s Beaulieu Vineyards (BV). Latour was searching for a highly qualified wine chemist to help improve the stability and quality of BV’s premium wines, which had recently suffered the disastrous effects of microbiological spoilage and volatile acidity.
When he arrived in Napa in 1938, just five years after the repeal of Prohibition, Tchelistcheff was struck by the primitive conditions of winegrowing and winemaking. It took him several years to improve the winemaking at BV by upgrading equipment and controlling fermentation processes. He also worked in the vineyards, with, in his words, “the voice of nature.” Tchelistcheff was committed to the idea of community and promoted the sharing of both technical data and philosophical musings among the people trying to rebuild the California wine industry. He also maintained close relationships with the scientists and scholars of viticulture and enology at the University of California at Davis.
After he left BV in 1973, Tchelistcheff became a consultant, serving dozens of California wineries old and new. He also played a key role in developing the modern wine industry in Washington State. In 1991 Tchelistcheff rejoined Beaulieu as consulting enologist. He died in the Napa Valley in 1994.
Object Name
Photovolt Corp.
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
leather (overall material)
overall: 6 in x 15 in x 6 in; 15.24 cm x 38.1 cm x 15.24 cm
place made
United States: New York, New York
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
model number
serial number
FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000
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Work and Industry: Agriculture
FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000
Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. Darrell F. Corti

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