Thurston Collection of Laboratory Artifacts Recognized for its Historical Value

May 10, 2019

ASME President-Elect Richard Laudenat (center) presented the ASME Mechanical Engineering Heritage Collection plaque to David Erickson (left), Cornell University’s dean for Research and Graduate Studies, and Julia Thom-Levy, the university’s vice provost for Academic Innovation, during the designation ceremony on May 3. (Photos by Wil Haywood, ASME Strategic Communications)

A collection of devices and machines used in the engineering laboratory developed at Cornell University by ASME’s first president, Robert Henry Thurston, was recently recognized by ASME for its historical significance. The collection of laboratory artifacts was designated as an ASME Mechanical Engineering Heritage Collection at a ceremony held on May 3 in Ithaca, N.Y.

The designation ceremony, which took place at Cornell University’s Upson Hall, was attended by ASME President-Elect Richard Laudenat, who presented the commemorative plaque to Julia Thom-Levy, Cornell University’s vice provost for Academic Innovation, and David Erickson, the university’s associate dean for Research and Graduate Studies. Approximately 50 people attended the ceremony, including History and Heritage Chair Herman Viegas, faculty and students from Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, ASME Fellows and members, and members of the university’s ASME Student Section, which supported the event.

Julia Thom-Levy of Cornell University examines Robert Henry Thurston’s autographic torsion testing machine, which is part of the collection of laboratory artifacts that was designated as an ASME Mechanical Engineering Heritage Collection.

The collection of laboratory equipment, which includes important testing instruments designed by Thurston, “exemplify Thurston’s vision of the central role of the engineering laboratory in the training of mechanical engineers,” according to the landmark plaque. Thurston, who served two terms as ASME president from 1880-1882, was an ardent believer that incorporating the engineering testing laboratory into engineering curricula was central to providing students with instruction that was both scientific and practical.

The devices in the collection, used at Cornell between 1885 and 1903, include Thurston’s autographic torsion testing machine, a device Thurston designed for measuring the lubricating properties of machine oils, and a working model of Green Steam Engine that Thurston built.

Several of the engineering laboratory devices and instruments from the Robert H. Thurston Collection at Cornell University.

The Thurston Collection is the second ASME landmark to be designated at Cornell University. The Releaux Collection of Kinematic Mechanisms had previously been recognized by ASME in 2004.

For more information on the ASME Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark program, visit