American Memory | Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection
Dayton C. Miller with flute

The following passage is excerpted from L. Gilliam and W. Lichtenwanger, The Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection: A Checklist of the Instruments (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1961), p. v-vi.

image, caption following
Dayton C. Miller with bicycle, about seventeen years old
ca. 1883
Dayton C. Miller, in cycling attire, stands before his bicycle.

No one better exemplifies the traditional concept of the practical-minded, ever-curious American scientist than Dayton C. Miller, who was born on a farm (at Strongsville, Ohio, March 13, 1866), grew up under modest circumstances in the small Ohio town of Berea, and worked his way through Baldwin University (later Baldwin-Wallace College).

It is characteristic that at his commencement exercises in 1886 he gave a lecture on "The Sun" and also played a flute solo with orchestral accompaniment (on a flute that unfortunately was not preserved). Later he obtained a doctorate in astronomy at Princeton University under Professor Charles A. Young, and in 1890 he began an association with the Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland that lasted for over fifty years--first teaching astronomy, later (1893) becoming a professor in charge of the physics department.

In early 1896, on reading accounts of Roentgen's experiments, Professor Miller became one of the first Americans to take an X-ray photograph; beginning in 1900 he associated with Professor
image, caption following
X-Ray of Dayton C. Miller
Photographer: Edith Easton Miller.
Edward W. Morley in those ether drift experiments that still concern astronomers and mathematicians dealing with Einstein's theory of relativity; in 1908 he introduced the phonodeik, a device that until the invention of electronic oscillators was one of the chief means of converting sound waves into visual images and thus of analyzing all manner of sounds from musical instruments to human speech.

During World War I, at the request of the Government, Dr. Miller studied the physical characteristics of pressure waves caused by the firing of large guns--studies that on the one hand provided material for medical investigations of "shell shock," and on the other hand led to the results eventually reported in his Sound Waves, Shape and Speed (1937). Among his other published books one finds The Science of Musical Sounds (New York, 1916, revised 1922), Sparks, Lightning and Cosmic Rays (1939), and (translated and annotated) Theobald Boehm's The Flute and Flute-Playing (1908, revised 1922, reprinted 1960).

Death came to Dr. Miller at Cleveland on February 22, 1941, just as he was preparing to move with his entire collection of flutes, books, and related materials to the Library of Congress, and here complete the varied investigations that remained unfinished and unpublished.

Dr. Miller's interests in acoustics and music-making were chiefly responsible for starting the collection on its way, and are reflected in his collection of flutes and wind instruments. Flute nos. 8 and 10 show Dayton C. Miller as both the theoretical scientist and the expert craftsman; the first is of silver and the second of gold, and this concern with the properties of different materials for musical instruments was a major factor in his development of the phonodeik and in the many acoustical experiments he subsequently carried out using examples in his collection. (When interrupted by his war work of 1917-19 he had started plans for a platinum flute that were never resumed.) It is interesting to note that a great part of the collection, close to 85 percent, was acquired after Dr. Miller had passed his fiftieth birthday.

For a detailed biographical account of Miller, see William J. Maynard's "Dayton C. Miller: His Life, Work, and Contributions as a Scientist and Organologist" (master's thesis, Long Island University, 1971), made available here with permission from the author.

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See also Miller's The Science of Musical Sounds (New York, 1916), incorporating the results of his charting of instrument waveforms, and his Anecdotal History of the Science of Sound (New York, 1935), the first general history of acoustical studies.

Books by & about Dayton C. Miller in the Dayton C. Miller Collection

Maynard, William J. "Dayton C. Miller, His Life, Work, and Contributions as a Scientist and Organologist." Master's thesis, Long Island University, 1971. 101 p.
Library of Congress call number: ML30.4b 2385

This thesis is made available here with permission from the author.
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Miller, Dayton C. Anecdotal History of the Science of Sound to the Beginning of the 20th Century. New York: Macmillan, 1935. 114 p.
Library of Congress call number: ML30.4 1174

-----. Catalogue of Books and Literary Material Relating to the Flute and Other Musical Instruments, with Annotations. Cleveland: privately printed, 1935. 120 p.
Library of Congress call number: ML30.4 1173

-----, trans. The Flute and Flute-Playing in Acoustical, Technical, and Artistic Aspects. by Theobald Boehm. Translated from the German of Theobald Boehm, with Extensive Annotations and Appendices Containing New Biographical Material and a Revised List of Boehm's Compostions. Second English edition, revised and enlarged. Cleveland, Ohio: Dayton C. Miller; London: Rudall, Carte & Co., Ltd. 1922. 197 p.
Library of Congress call number: ML30.4 285

-----. "Flutes of the American Indian." "Flutes of Japan and China." "The Contra-Bass Flute and The Albisiphone." "The Flute d'Amour and Other Transposing Flutes." "Comments on Certain Characteristics of Flutes." "The Pipes of Pan or The Syrinx." "Flutes of Glass." "Flutes for One-Handed Players." "The Dayton C. Miller Collections: Notes by the Collector." (Separates. Ten Historical and descriptive papers relating to the flute, including one anonymous biographical article, "Dayton C. Miller," probably by Emil Medicus, published in The Flutist magazine, 1921-1925.) 45 p.
Library of Congress call number: ML30.4 623

-----. "The Influence of the Material of Wind-Instruments on the Tone Quality." Science, n.s. 29 (Jan. 29, 1909): 161-71. Reprinted in Metronome (May-June 1909). 23 p.
Library of Congress call number: ML30.4 58

American Memory | Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection