History of the Museum

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Physics has been taught at Grinnell College since immediately after the Civil War. Unfortunately, most of the equipment collected in the early years was destroyed in a tornado and subsequent fire in 1886. A few pieces of equipment now in our collection appear to have been purchased before that destruction, but most of our equipment was purchased after the tornado.

Samuel J. Buck was professor of natural philosophy from 1869 until 1893. At times Professor Buck served as the City Surveyor, Acting President of the College, and also as a Trustee. According to tradition, he walked from Oberlin to Grinnell to apply for the job, but since the Rock Island Railroad ran through Grinnell, it seems more likely that he came by train. Some of Professor Buck's surveying equipment is in the museum. Equipment purchased by Professor Buck began the collection which now is in the Physics Historical Museum.

Frank F. Almy, who came to Grinnell in 1893 and taught physics until his death in 1932, was the first Professor of Physics (rather than Natural Philosophy). He made much of the equipment which the Physics Department used for many years.

In 1928 Grant O. Gale came to the college as an instructor in physics, eventually becoming Professor of Physics, and until his death in 1998 he saved equipment which had become obsolete. That equipment is now the core of the Physics Historical Museum.

In the 1930's H. H. Ninninger paid for his daughter's tuition with meteorites, and those meteorites became the basis of a collection which has been expanded by some trading.

Some items, such as medical x-ray equipment, have been given to the museum through the years. Bob Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated chip and founder of Intel, was a Grinnell graduate, and he donated some things from the computer chip industry.




 Samuel J. Buck

Frank F. Almy

Grant O. Gale