Science & Mathematics - Overview
The Museum's collections hold thousands of objects related to chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy, and other sciences. Instruments range from early American telescopes to lasers. Rare glassware and other artifacts from the laboratory of Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen, are among the scientific treasures here. A Gilbert chemistry set of about 1937 and other objects testify to the pleasures of amateur science. Artifacts also help illuminate the social and political history of biology and the roles of women and minorities in science.
The mathematics collection holds artifacts from slide rules and flash cards to code-breaking equipment. More than 1,000 models demonstrate some of the problems and principles of mathematics, and 80 abstract paintings by illustrator and cartoonist Crockett Johnson show his visual interpretations of mathematical theorems.
"Science & Mathematics - Overview" showing 1 items.
- To teach children basic arithmetic, 19th-century teachers used numeral frames like this one. They resemble a Russian abacus, in that beads move crosswise. However, each bead represents a unit digit (unlike the abacus, where beads in different rows or columns have different place values).
- Soldiers returning from Russia after the Napoleonic Wars introduced this kind of abacus into France. In England, teacher and educational reformer Samuel Wilderspin promoted its use. Educators from both France and England brought it to the U. S., where it began to sell commercially in the late 1820s.
- Some numeral frames were purchased and others homemade. The device was used to teach counting, simple addition, multiplication, and fractions. Most early numeral frames had 12 or 10 beads in a row. This one has 8 parallel copper wires, each with 18 beads. The instrument was used in Mexico. It came to the Smithsonian in 1979. There are no maker’s marks.
- Reference: P. A. Kidwell, Amy Ackerberg-Hastings, and D. L. Roberts, Tools of American Mathematics Teaching, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008, pp. 87-104.
- Currently not on view
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- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center