Special Delivery: Shiny Piece of Scientific History Finds Its Way Home

At the end of last year, the Center for Limnology received a very special Christmas gift all the way from Corvallis, Oregon. To be more precise, our recently retired director, Steve Carpenter, got a package in the mail. Inside was a small brown case about four inches high and the width and length of a piece of printer paper. It was surprisingly heavy, weighing well over ten pounds. And, tucked in that box, was a hundred-year-old piece of limnological history.
The gift was accompanied by a letter from its sender, Kenneth Malueg, a CFL alumnus who studied under Art Hasler, receiving his PhD in 1966. Now retired from his career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Corvallis Environmental Research Laboratory, Malueg wrote that, long ago, as a graduate student working under Hasler, he had been instructed to head up to what was then called “Chippewa Station” and is now known as the University of Notre Dame’s Environmental Research Center. Hasler asked Malueg to clean out some cabins so that a Notre Dame researcher could settle in. After chucking “rotten bedding and laboratory glassware,” Malueg made a discovery:
“On the upper floor, above the boat dock, I found an old box containing a microscope that I have had in my possession all these years.”
We, of course, had to take this beautiful, brass scope out for a test drive. Check out the slideshow below:
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Even more remarkable than the fact that the scope still works (like really, really works!), Malueg wrote that he had a suspicion that the artifact may have been one used by E. A. Birge, founder of limnology here in Wisconsin and a former president of the University of Wisconsin. Indeed, a database of serial numbers of the renowned Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Company shows that this specific model was made sometime in 1910 or 1911 – the heyday of Birge and Juday’s seminal studies of Wisconsin lakes.
And, even more telling, a photograph in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives, dated “ca. 1928” shows a remarkably similar piece of equipment. We’ll never know for sure just who used this scope, but it will definitely sit in a featured spot in our library from here on. Thanks, Ken!

E.A. Birge and what looks like a brass Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Co. microscope. Photo: UW-Madison Archives, circa 1928.