The physics cabinet at the Rennes high school

The Émile Zola high school in Rennes (Brittany Region, France) keeps a vast collection of teaching materials in one of its former chemistry labs. The collection in the physics cabinet shows how science teaching methods evolved in one of the oldest high schools in France

Locomotive print (1850/1860) by Eugène Wormser for teaching mecanicRégion Bretagne

Harnessing energy

In the 19th century, major construction works (roads, bridges, canals, railway, and telephone networks, etc.) took place alongside the industrial revolution. The education system therefore had to train new generations of engineers and technicians so new schools, high schools, colleges, and scientific institutions opened to teach construction and harnessing energy.

Direct action machine print (1850/1860) by Eugène Wormser for teaching mecanicRégion Bretagne

In the 1760s, James Watt perfected the steam engine, making it more efficient. It became the driving force behind industrial development en the 19th century, especially within the mining, textile, and metalwork industries.
Subsequently, its use extended to transportation, enabling the acceleration of economic, human, and material exchanges.

Hydraulic press (1864/1908) by Eugène DucretetRégion Bretagne

Industrial development always requires more energy. Coal was widely used, but some processes still favored the use of human labor.
The hydraulic press, developed at the end of the 18th century by Bramah, was immediately adopted into many industrial processes. Through the application of Pascal's law, this press could exert sizeable compression force from very little input energy.

Leclanché cell (c. 1955) by CipelRégion Bretagne

Beginning in the 1860s, electricity accelerated developments in industry and communication. Many inventors developed batteries to enable the transmission of information over thousands of miles.
In 1881, essentially due to the telegraph, more than 300,000 of the batteries designed by George Leclanché in 1866 were sold.

Detail of General Morin's equipment for studying the laws of falling bodies (1862) by unknownRégion Bretagne

Scientific instruments available to everyone

Scientific discoveries and their applications ignited curiosity and amazement. Many of the instruments created in laboratories and physics cabinets were discovered to have new practical applications in the fields of science, industry, and even in daily life.

General Morin's equipment for studying the laws of falling bodies (1862) by unknownRégion Bretagne

More widely known as "General Morin's Machine," this device produces a graphic recording of the fall of bodies and highlights its uniform acceleration. It is named after its inventor, Arthur Morin, who dedicated his career to mechanical experiments, which eventually took him to work at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (Conservatoire national des arts et métiers) in 1852. He also wrote and published in 1938 an aide-mémoire in mechanics for artillery officers and civil and military engineers.

Metal dial thermometer (1830) by unknownRégion Bretagne

At the beginning of the 19th century, thermometers were common place in physics cabinets, but also satisfied a growing curiosity in meteorology amongst the general public. This one uses the principle of the unequal dilatability of metals to measure the temperature of the atmosphere.

The rise in temperature causes the blade to lengthen and the lever to move, causing the needle to rotate. A drop in temperature moves the needle in the opposite direction.

J. Salleron still (1945) by Salleron-DujardinRégion Bretagne

Distillation enables the separation of liquids by heating and then condensing them. This small model designed by the Maison Jules Salleron, founded in 1855, also has a precision alcoholometer to measure the alcoholic degree of the distillate produced. These instruments, originally meant for use in laboratories and physics cabinets, were also used in enology and farming.

Second counter (1850/1880) by unknownRégion Bretagne

The industrialization of timekeeping came as man needed to measure time more and more precisely. This " seconds counter " shows the principle behind pendulum clocks.

The anchor escapement mechanism interrupts the movement of the wheel at regular intervals and periodically gives energy to the balance wheel.

Kevuko stereoscope (1850/1950) by Keystone view companyRégion Bretagne

Due to a rise in photography, optical games became increasingly popular, which led to a growing market for the producers of instruments. Events were organized around photographic stereoscopes that could show faraway lands or historical events on a flat surface.

Collection room (1880/1890)Région Bretagne

The golden age of construction

The world fairs which took place regularly from 1851 were hugely popular. They were a showcase for builders and scientists where they could present their latest inventions. Such collaborations provided precision instruments for all branches of research and scientific teaching, as well as professional instruments.

Ruhmkorff coil (1875/1915) by Morlot-MauryRégion Bretagne

It was in 1851 that Heinrich Ruhmkorff designed the first induction coils which made it possible to obtain a very high voltage from a high intensity electric current at low voltage. It could produce sparks, shocks, and lighting effects in rarefied gases. Indispensable in physics cabinets, industry, and medicine, these coils opened the door for the development of new technologies, such as radiography.

Direct current Gramme machine (1875/1882) by BreguetRégion Bretagne

In 1869, Zénobe Gramme developed a machine that could transform mechanical energy into electrical energy. He presented his invention to the Paris Academy of Science in 1871 and marketed it as a "dynamo-electric machine." Two years later, Hippolyte Fontaine demonstrated the reversibility of the dynamo which, when used as an engine, had many industrial applications. The dynamo was key to the vast applications of electricity that followed, most notably in the field of transportation.

Wimshurst influence machine (1893) by Ducretet & LejeuneRégion Bretagne

A later version of the first electric machines of the 18th century, the Wimshurst machine presented in 1883 produced static electricity through induction and contact. Unlike electrical friction machines, this mainly used the phenomenon of electrical induction. Less cumbersome and more predictable, its educational application meant it could be found in the collection of almost every school.

Nobili's astatic galvanometer (1825/1893) by DeleuilRégion Bretagne

In 1825, Léopoldo Nobili presented to the Italian Society of the Sciences in Modena a very sensitive astatic galvanometer, capable of determining the direction and intensity of an electric current, even a very weak one.

When the current flows, the magnetic needle would deviate and oscillate before settling on the graduated dial. This device was an indispensable instrument in laboratories.

Detail of the Nobili's astatic galvanometer (1825/1893) by DeleuilRégion Bretagne

Louis-Joseph Deleuil, who was awarded a prize at the first world fair in London (1851), marketed Nobili's galvanometer.

Deprez-d'Arsonval galvanometer (1864/1915) by Jules CarpentierRégion Bretagne

At the end of the 19th century, mobile magnet galvanometers were in competition with mobile frame devices. Instead of a magnetised needle moving when electrical current flows through a surrounding wire coil, there was a fixed magnet and moveable coil. And so the Deprez d'Arsonval mobile galvanometer became standard in every laboratory. Jules Carpentier, who bought the Ruhmkorff workshops in 1877, was the first to market this type of galvanometer and to supply it to a large number of laboratories.

Credits: Story

Conception & writing: Justine Malpeli, Région Bretagne

Photographs: Délia-Gaulin-Crespel, Région Bretagne

Under the responsibility of Elisabeth Loir-Mongazon, Head of Service for the Inventory of Cultural Heritage (Service de l'Inventaire du patrimoine culturel), Région Bretagne

Acknowledgments: Jean-Noël Cloarec, Bertrand Wolff and the members of Amélycor, the association for the History of the High Schools and College of Rennes

© Région Bretagne, Service de l'Inventaire du patrimoine culturel.

The Brittany region (Région Bretagne) is in charge of equipping and operating breton public high schools. It is also responsible for the inventory of cultural heritage.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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