Test tube

Test tube

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Description (Brief)
This object is a test tube made of Pyrex glass. The test tube is one of the most commonly used pieces of laboratory ware. Test tubes are the perfect shape and size to hold small amounts of substances, usually liquid, which are then manipulated in some way, such as being placed over the flame of a Bunsen burner.
Two renowned chemists, Jons Jacob Berzelius (1779–1848) and Michael Faraday (1791–1867), have been suggested as the inventor of the test tube. Berzelius describes the more robust cousin of the test tube, the boiling tube, in an 1814 article. Faraday mentions that small glass tubes would make a useful vessel for test reactions in his 1827 book, Chemical Manipulation. Either way, the test tube likely has its origins in the early 19th century, as the form does not seem to appear in 18th century chemistry sets. Instead, earlier texts suggest carrying out test reactions in wine glasses.
Pyrex has its origins in the early 1910s, when American glass company Corning Glass Works began looking for new products to feature its borosilicate glass, Nonex. At the suggestion of Bessie Littleton, a Corning scientist’s wife, the company began investigating Nonex for bakeware. After removing lead from Nonex to make the glass safe for cooking, they named the new formula “Pyrex”—“Py” for the pie plate, the first Pyrex product. In 1916 Pyrex found another market in the laboratory. It quickly became a favorite brand in the scientific community for its strength against chemicals, thermal shock, and mechanical stress.
This object is part of a collection donated by Barbara Keppel, wife of C. Robert Keppel. Robert Keppel taught at the University of Nebraska-Omaha after receiving his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from M.I.T. The glassware in the Keppel collection covers the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Dyer, Davis. The Generations of Corning: The Life and Times of a Global Corporation. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Jackson, Catherine M. “The ‘Wonderful Properties of Glass’: Liebig’s Kaliapparat and the Practice of Chemistry in Glass.” Isis 106, no. 1 (2015): 43–69. doi:10.1086/681036.
Jensen, William B. “Michael Faraday and the Art and Science of Chemical Manipulation.” Bulletin for the History of Chemistry, no. 11 (1991): 65–76.
Jensen, William B. “The Origin of Pyrex.” Journal of Chemical Education 83, no. 5 (2006): 692. doi:10.1021/ed083p692.
Kraissl, F. “A History of the Chemical Apparatus Industry.” Journal of Chemical Education 10, no. 9 (1933): 519. doi:10.1021/ed010p519.
National Museum of American History Accession File #1985.0311
“University of Nebraska Omaha.” 2015. Accessed May 4. http://www.unomaha.edu/college-of-arts-and-sciences/chemistry/student-opportunities/scholarships.php.
Currently not on view
Object Name
test tube
date made
Corning Incorporated
Associated Place
United States: New Jersey
overall: 8 1/8 in x 3/4 in; 20.6375 cm x 1.905 cm
overall: 8 1/8 in x 1 3/16 in; 20.6375 cm x 3.01625 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Barbara A. Keppel
Science & Scientific Instruments
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Chemistry
Science & Mathematics
Science Under Glass
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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