Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Elemental Kinematics

“The Incline Plane,” “The Lever,” The Wedge.” These are the first three in William M. Clark’s series of mechanical models created in the early 1900s. According to the New York Times, Sept. 30, 1928, the collection of 160 models were displayed at the Museums of the Peaceful Arts on West 40th St. where they provided the answers to such question as “how can hundreds of pounds be lifted with a one-pound pull?” and “how can the rear wheels of automobiles run at different speeds around a corner without slippage when on the same axle?”
Each model was mounted on a 15 ¼” square panel. “Mechanical Wonderland,” as the collection was known, consisted of ten arrays of 16 panels each (four by four. With the push of a button, visitors could set the models in motion. Of those original 160 models, the 120 that remain now reside in the Boston Museum of Science. The digitized images you see here are from KMODDL (Kinematic Models for Design Digital Library), a resource of Cornell University Library for the scholarship of kinematics – the geometry of pure motion – and the history and theory of machines. 

Two of  more than 35,000 visitors to to see the collection in 1930.

There is, however, another set of these models. In 1928, before their installation at the Museums of the Peaceful Arts (which later became the New York Museum of Science and Industry), the models were on display in the boys' department of a department store. After seeing a pamphlet about the store display, John Cotton Dana, director of the Newark Museum tried to negotiate bringing the collection to New Jersey. Due to the costs involved, that never came to pass. A year later, Dana died, and noted philanthropic Newark resident, Louis Bamberger (best known for his department store and for funding the Institute for Advance Study in Princeton) commissioned a set for his home town.

A catalog published by the museum describes Clark’s motivation for creating his “dictionary of mechanical movements.” 
From his early youth Mr. Clark has been interested in machines and has always had a great desire to visualize the science of mechanics. His work of twenty years or more in perfecting the exhibit was inspired by a wish to give inventors and to all who deal in machine technique a short cut to their various ends.

Though based in part, on Henry T. Brown’s 507 Mechanical Movements (1871), Clark’s particular contribution, according to a 1954 journal essay published by the Museum, was that he managed “to condense into simple, compact, and easily operated models all the movements or combinations of movements used in mechanics.” And that by presenting the principles from the simplest movements to complex combinations of them, “the exhibit may be said to cover the period from man’s earliest use of tools other than his own hands to the present age of internal combustion engines, turbines and steam locomotives."

As of 1954, Clark’s “Mechanical Wonderland” had been on exhibition continuously and had travelled only twice. Once to the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair where it was featured as the centerpiece of Popular Science Monthly's exhibit. And once to MIT for ‘The Promotion of Engineering Education.’ From what I can gather, the models remained on display at the Newark Museum until sometime in the 1980s when the science galleries underwent renovation.

The models and museum publications with photos of the groups arrayed can be found here.

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