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Collection Dayton C. Miller Collection

Early Experiments in Science and the Beginnings of A Flute Collection

In 1895, Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen, the German physicist, discovered the X-ray. While experimenting with the Crookes tubes (see earlier section), Roentgen found that when he covered the tubes with a black paper and turned on the electrical current, a fluorescent substance nearby glowed. He noted that these unknown, invisible rays could pass through some substances such as flesh, but were stopped by other, such as metal or bone.

It was in January, 1896, that word of this discovery reached the United States. No time was lost; the Crookes tubes which Miller had bought three years earlier at the Chicago World's Fair were immediately set to work. The Case physic's laboratory overnight became the center of great attraction; and within a week many X-ray photographs were made with Mrs. Miller taking the part of principle assistant.

First, she 'posed' her arm on the plate, holding still for two hours! Soon she learned to operate the apparatus while professor Miller posed, and it was she who made the photographs of the composite full-length 'portrait,' which perhaps was the first such photograph ever made; she was really one of the pioneer X-ray experts. 34

Other X-rays were made at this time and according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer five were taken of William J. Frew, city marshal of New Philadelphia, Ohio, to locate a bullet imbedded in his wrist. A second set were taken of Charles Frye who had accidentally shot himself with a revolver fourteen years before. The bullet had never been found until the negatives revealed it. 35 These were taken before Miller's own "portrait," for he said:

Any foreign substance in arms or legs can now be definitely located. I cannot speak yet as to the trunk of the body, but I expect to photograph my own ribs before I shall leave the experiments. 36

It was during this same period of time that Dr. George W. Crile, a Cleveland physician who was noted as a pioneer in the field of blood transfusions, brought to the Case laboratories a young boy with a bone fracture. Dr. Miller photographed the boy's arm thus producing one of the first, if not the first, X-ray photographs for surgical purposes to be produced in America. 37 (Columbia University has laid claim to the first surgical pictures - those of the late Michael Pupin.)

From February to April, 1896, Miller gave twelve lectures devoted to this new X-ray; the total, however, would soon grow to seventy.

In the summer of 1896, Miller made his first trip to Europe and while there met with the famous German scientist, Wilhelm Roentgen. His visit to Roentgen did not take all of his time, however, and we find him also visiting the musical instrument manufacturer, Rudall, Carte & Company in London. The latter visit was not by accident for his diary indicates that he purchased a Rudall, Carte Boehm system flute in C on August 21, 1896. It is also noted in his diary that the flute was made to order for him; therefore, indicating that there was an exchange of letters before purchase. 38

At the Library of Congress all of the known correspondence that Miller had relative to his flute collection is on file. As meticulous as he was in preserving the correspondence from 1905 on, keeping all letters received and carbon copies of his letters and replies, the earlier years are incomplete. The earliest letter the writer found, one of the very few written before 1905, was dated October 26, 1896 and was in Miller's own handwriting. The letter was written to Rudall, Carte & Company and discussed a recent flute Miller had purchased from them while on holiday during the summer of 1896. This was, of course, the flute mentioned earlier. The letter said, in part:

I have now been at home for six weeks and have been playing my new flute from one to four hours every day. I am delighted with its magnificent quality and volume of tone. It is a superb flute. But I am disappointed much in proportion to find it utterly impossible to play the flute in its designed pitch. 39

In a reply dated November 16, 1896, Rudall & Carte suggested that Miller take the flute to a professional flutist to have it checked. Although there is no proof to support the suggestion that he did have the flute inspected, we might assume he did; for on March 5, 1899, he purchased a second flute from Rudall & Carte wich was made to order for him. This would be a Boehm system flute in C, and is number five in the Checklist. 40

The importance of Miller's request that some of his specifications be included in the two flutes lieds in the assumption that he had begun a serious study into the acoustical properties pertinent to the flute. He must have been thinking about measurements such as length and diameter, hole size and placement, thickness of the materials used in the making of the flute, and questioning the nature of the materials themselves.

The question of the influence of the material of which a wind musical instrument is made has not been settled after more than a century of widespread discussion. Is the tone quality of a flute, the tube of which is made of gold, superior to that of a similiar flute made of silver or wood? If there is a difference, what is the explanation? It was this specific question that, in 1900, started the investigations which, having passed much beyond the original inquiry, have furnished the material for the reports here presented. 41

Miller did prefer a gold flute for its tone quality, but also considered other materials depending upon the music to be played.

For a great deal of music I play, I consider this thinned wood flute (a Rudall & Carte Bb flute) as the best instrument in my entire collection. This would apply to the performance of music with filigree variations I usually prefer a silver flute. However, for full rich tone quality, I must give my preference to the twenty-two carat gold flute. 42

The first time Miller played on a gold flute was on the occasion of his second visit to London in the summer of 1900. It was at the Rudall & Carte shop that this event took place and he immediately proclaimed the gold flute to be the finest he had ever played.

I failed to notice the material of which it was made and yet had pronounced it superior to any other. 43

In this same letter Miller stated that a gold flute would have been too expensive for him to either buy or to build himself. However, the gold flute was not forgotten and an unusual chain of events led to his buying the necessary gold tube. A New York dentist began using X-ray techniques in his diagnosis of dental treatment. Not being too experienced in this field, he administered an overdose to a woman patient which caused her to be burned. She brought a lawsuit against the dentist and he in turn asked Miller to act as an expert witness in X-ray techniques. Miller's fee for this testimony furnished the large part of financing the gold flute. 44

On March 18, 1905, he purchased from the United Wire & Supply Company of providence, Rhode Island, the gold tube which measured .748 I.D. x Wall .013x 19 1/4", 190 4/24 d wt. 45 It is said that he spent over eighteen hundred hours to build the flute and spread out his work over a three year period. 46 He did finish his gold instrument and it is now kept in a vault at the Library of Congress. It should be pointed out that the gold flute was not his first attempt at building a musical instrument. In 1901, he completed an Eb flute which utilized the Boehm system and was made of silver. His correspondence with the United Wire & Supply Company shows that he pruchased three sterling tubes on April 25, 1906, and a platinum tube on January 5, 1905. He also obtained tubes of aluminum and brass. While the Checklist indicates only the two flutes as being made by Miller, numbers eight and ten, it is known that he did make another silver flute for his brother, Alanson P. Miller. 47 Therefore, it is not unlikely that he had made others in his quest for more knowledge about the flute.

If the year 1900 was important to Miller's organological investigations of the gold flute, it must have been equally, if not more, important to his scientific work. While in Europe at that time, 1900, he attended the International Congress of Physics in Parks, and heard a lecture on ether drift delivered by Lord Kelvin, the British physicist. Miller's future studies relating to ether drift were to last a lifetime, and would become for him a definitive study. He had known of the ether drift experiments because many were made at Case by Albert A. Michelson, a former professor of physics at Case who taught there during the 1880's.

Physicists had long been asking themselves whether the ether surrounding our earth remained fixed in respect to the motion of heavenly bodies through it, or whether the earth in its motion through space dragged the ether with it. Michelson devised an instrument known as an interferometer, which was capable of measuring more minute distances than the most high-powered microscope. As a reward for his scientific achievements, Michelson was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1907.

Michelson was associated with a fellow physicist, Edward W. Morley of Western Reserve University, in many of these ether studies. When Michelson left Case in 1889, Morley moved on to other experiments. With Miller's new interest in 1900, however, Morley returned to his earlier studies of ether drift, and the two men set about building a new and larger interferometer which was four times as sensitive as the one used in the earlier experiments. Observations were made with this new improved instrument in 1904 and the results were expressed as follows:

If the ether near the apparatus did not move with it, the difference in velocity was less than 3.5 kilometers a second, unless the effect on the materials annulled the effect sought. We desire to place the apparatus on a hill, covered only with a transparent covering to see if an effect can be there detected. 48

Albert Einstein, the scientist, was interested in this ether drift theory and used the Michelson, Morley, and Miller experiments as a basis for his theory of relativity. However, Einstein formulated his theories on the basis that ether did not fill outer space, wheras Miller felt that indeed it did exist. Speaking at the University of Berlin, Einstein stated that the experiments at Case showed zero results and later experiments on Mount Wilson showed positive results. Therefore, he said, altitude influences results as well as do differences in temperature, and these both provide sources of error which would rule the findings invalid.

Miller replied to these charges:

The trouble with Professor Einstein is that he knows nothing about my results....He ought to give me credit for knowing that temperature differences would affect the results. He wrote to me in November suggesting this. I am not so simple as to make no allowance for temperature. 49

Computer analysis of all the data, after Miller's death, proved that although the shifts were statistically significant, they were not due to an ether drift but rather to very small temperature gradients across the interferometer which displaced the fringes. When Miller's data were reorganized to take account of this temperature factor, they were shown to support the postulates of the special theory of relativity. 50

How many times these two scientists met, we do not know, but it is known that Einstein was a guest in the Miller home on at least one occasion, as shown by Einstein's signature in the Miller guestbook.

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