Test Tube

Test Tube

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The test tube—inexpensive and useful—came to light in the early nineteenth century, along with books and lectures on chemistry designed to attract the attention of women, children, students in high schools and colleges, and men working in various trades. The earliest English account of test tubes, and wooden test racks that hold tubes upright so their contents would not spill, appears in A System of Theoretical and Practical Chemistry (London, 1803) written by Frederick Accum, a German “operative chemist” who offered chemicals, books, lessons, and apparatus from his shop in Compton Street, Soho. Since Accum never claimed to have invented either form, we might assume that both were known to practical chemists and others who seldom discussed their work in print. Indeed, Accum may have learned about test tubes during his apprenticeship in a pharmacy in Hanover.
Most test tubes are unmarked in any way. This one, however, is graduated from 0 to 15 and inscribed “R. Griffin & Co. / Glasgow.” Griffin trade literature termed it a “Centimeter Glass Tube...German glass, very strong tube, ground at the mouth, 10 inches long, 1 inch internal diameter, graduated into 150 cubic centimeters.”
Richard Griffin and his brother, John Joseph, were merchants in Glasgow who sold chemical and other scientific apparatus, and published numerous books on chemistry. J. J. Griffin later set up shop in London.
An 1842 advertisement for “Griffin’s Cheap Chemical Apparatus” noted that the firm offered “every kind of French, German, and English CHEMICAL APPARATUS, employed by Analytical Chemists, Lecturers, Students, and Chemical Manufacturers. The instruments are of the newest and most useful kinds, such as are employed by Berzelius, Liebig, Rose, Mitscherlich, Dumas, Gay Lussac, Faraday, Graham, and other eminent chemists.” J. J. Griffin, moreover, had “recently visited the principal chemical laboratories and instrument-makers in France, Germany, and England, for the purpose of collecting the best patterns of the apparatus at present employed in Organic and Inorganic Chemistry.”
Ref: Richard Griffin & Co., Descriptive Catalogue of Chemical Apparatus (Glasgow, July 1841), p. 69.
“Griffin’s Cheap Chemical Apparatus,” ad in American Journal of Science 43 (1842): 2.
Currently not on view
Object Name
test tube
Date made
19th century
date made
R. Griffin and Company
Griffin, Richard
Associated Place
United States: New Jersey
overall: 1 1/4 in x 9 1/2 in; 3.175 cm x 24.13 cm
overall: 9 5/8 in x 1 5/16 in; 24.4475 cm x 3.33375 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. Derek J. Price
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Chemistry
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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