M994.58.3.1-14 | Microscope

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Creative Commons License
1900-1910, 20th century
36 x 19 x 17 cm
Gift of Mrs. Lee Lindsay
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Microscope (3)
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Keys to History

The microscope can be regarded as a symbol of modern medicine. Its use in hospital laboratories and boards of health in Quebec beginning in the late 19th century signalled the emergence of a new understanding of the origins and methods of propagation of disease. Thanks to the scientific discoveries of Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) in France and Robert Koch (1843-1910) in Germany, the miasma theory was discredited. It was now thought that living microscopic creatures were the main source of a whole range of contagious diseases. These microbes, or germs, entered the human body by means of a number of vectors (human, animal, airborne) and multiplied. Bacteriological analysis revealed that milk was a favourable breeding ground for pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli and those causing typhoid and tuberculosis. Those who consumed contaminated milk ran a very serious risk of contracting a number of extremely dangerous diseases.

  • What

    The microscope was essential to the study of bacteria. With a set of lenses, it could magnify many hundreds of times, enabling scientists to observe the tiniest organisms.

  • Where

    Manufactured in Vienna by the C. Reichert Company, this microscope crossed the Atlantic. For many years, it belonged to W. D. Lighthall (1857-1954), a Montreal lawyer, author, reformer and politician.

  • When

    In the mid-18th century, major advances were made in microscopy and the compound microscope, with several lenses, became the norm. After 1850, further developments in lens making considerably increased the power of microscopes.

  • Who

    The microscope enabled German scientist Robert Koch to identify the tuberculosis bacillus in 1882.