Dayton C. Miller, His Life, Work, and Contributions | Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection Home
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Abstract of Master's Report | List Of Figures | Appendix | Footnotes | Bibliography

CHAPTER 3

DAYTON C. MILLER; EARLY YEARS

Strongsville, Ohio, in the late 1800's, was a modest agricultural town, located about nine miles south of Cleveland. Young Dayton C. Miller lived with his parents in the large colonial brick house that belonged to his maternal grandfather, Alanson Pomeroy. Miller's grandmother Pomeroy's maiden name was Pope, and she was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The house was the most pretentious dwelling in the village and was still occupied by the Pomeroy family as late as 1940. Grandfather Pomeroy was a farmer and storekeeper who also did surveying, both as a profession and as an avocation. He was community-minded, too, for he was an original trustee of Oberlin College. It was the surveyor's instruments, though, that fascinated Dayton as well as the books which the young boy found in the house. He would spend countless hours looking at the pictures in these books and trying to learn the meaning of the words which accompanied the illustrations. Another pleasure that Dayton had was to help his father tend the steam-driven sawmill that was on the Pomeroy farm. It was in this setting that his early interest in scientific and mechanical devices began to form and grow. 14

Born on March 13, 1866, to Charles Webster Dewey Miller (1841-1918), and Vienna Pomeroy Miller (1843-1919), Dayton was the first child of this marriage. The family would grow, however, to four sons and one daughter.

In 1874, the Miller family, now numbering five since Dayton's sister Harriet was born in 1871 and his brother Allison in 1873, moved six miles north to Berea, Ohio. Berea was a larger town than Strongsville and promised to offer success to his father's new hardware store. In the rear of this new store was a tin-shop, where Dayton learned to make for himself many of the things he could not buy. He was a 'maker' and grew up learning to fashion with his hands those things that his mind conceived. (We will later see that this skill stayed with him his entire life.) It was said that young Dayton would astonish customers in his father's store by giving correct answers in rapid time to any mathematical question thrown to him. Indeed, it was a habit of his teacher, one M. A. Sprague, to throw out numbers quickly in any size up to one hundred, and ask the class to add, subtract, or multiply. Dayton, it is told, usually had the correct answer first. 15

As a growing young boy, Dayton attended Berea Public Schoolos until he was fourteen; and every Sunday he attended the German Methodist School where his mother played the organ. He enjoyed all the games that a young boy would take pleasure in, such as "yard-off" and "pull-away." "Date", as he was called then, was the fastest of all the boys. 16

He was serious, too, and as a teenager became chief of the Berea Hook and Ladder Company No. 2. Date took his job very seriously and soon excelled in ladder climbing. The boys of his command would run carrying a ladder held vertically in the air; they would stop suddenly at a predetermined point and hold the ladder in the air while Date climbed eighteen feet to the top and then slide down heels-over-head through the rungs. His record time of one and a half minutes was fast enough to win him awards at several fireman's tournaments. 17

His friends in the fire company always liked to visit the Miller home, especially during the grape season when the family arbor was loaded. Date was always most generous with the grapes, but when the feast was over he would drill them in marching - and there was no fooling around! Discipline was his rule. These two traits, generosity and discipline, were to last throughout his life. 18

When the marching and daily school work was over, the other boys went home to their families for rest and relaxation. Date was different, though, and during the early evening darkness one would find him in his yard studying the planets and stars through one of his telescopes. As a young boy, he made a total of three refracting telescopes, each being larger and better than the preceding. In his search for more knowledge, he corresponded with the famous telescope maker of Pittsburgh, Dr. John A. Brashear. This friendship grew over many years and both enjoyed a healthy respect for each other. Miller, in one of his writing's, referred to Brashear as his "scientific father." 19

His first major 'invention' may have been the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell was 29 years old when he gave the first public demonstration at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876. The telephone was called a marvel of the age by all who saw it. Dayton, at the age of 12, was a devoted reader of Scientific American, and so when the telephone was described in this magazine he went out and made one for himself. And it worked! It must have been a thrill for Miller, some forty years later, when he met Bell at the Washinton home of this famous inventor. 20

Science was not the only interest Dayton pursued in his early years. Music also played an important role. Dayton's father played the fife in a fife-and-drum corp which was organized in 1864 for service in the Civil War. It was this fife, which his father had played, that was his first instrument.

The earliest childish plaything of which the writer has any memory is this particular fife. The making of noise and music on this instrument and others of the same kind became a matter of considerable interest. The writer was led by fate to choose the flute, as the subject of collecting, and for this he is grateful. 21

The particular fife under discussion was manufactured by Hopkins of Troy, New York, about 1860, and was made of rosewood with a lead mouthpiece. This instrument, along with well over 1,500 others, can be seen at the Library of Congress, where the Miller collection is housed. As one would expect, the fife is number one in the chronological accession. 22

On his thriteenth birthday, Dayton's father purchased for him a real flute - his very first. Alas, his fingers were too small to cover the tone-holes and so he could not play on it. Imagine the disappointment that Dayton must have felt. His father, though, knew something had to be done and so he bought Dayton a piccolo, which is of course smaller, so that the boy could reach all of the keys. The instrument was made by H. F. Meyer of Hanover, Germany, about 1878, and was purchased from the S. W. Perry Company of Berea Ohio. Dayton must have made fast progress, because he became a member of the Schubert Orchestra, Chamberlains, Berea, in 1880 - a membership he held until 1886.

He used the piccolo for a short time until his hands were large enough for the flute. It is interesting to note that his flute, his first, is not a part of the collection in Washington. As a matter of fact, an example of this flute, which was an H. F. Meyer with thirteen keys, escaped being represented in the collection until January 1941, one month before his death. This last flute was a gift from his sister-in-law, Mrs. Mildred Miller of Oakland, California. In a letter dated February 5, 1971, Mrs. Miller related to the writer this story:

About the flute 1426 (the Meyer) - I had a dear friend in her eighties whom I visited often and while there she had a telephone conversation with a friend of many years who wanted to know if her son who was musical would like a flute. It seems that when her brother was twelve he had a fatal accident while swinging. His mother had placed all his treasures in a trunk in the attic and it had remained closed all these years. Now she was moving from the family home and had opened the trunk. When I heard the word flute I gasped at it, called her friend, and she gladly gave it to me. I told her about Dayton's collection which pleased her immensely. Dayton received it shortly before his passing and Edith (his wife) sent her a 'thank you' letter. However, I received a letter from Dayton telling me it was the model and make that he played on at his graduation and had been looking for one for his collection for years. Quite a story isn't it. 23

His early music lessons were probably given to him by his parents. His mother played the organ and his father sold organs on a part-time basis. The entire family were active in musical presentations at their church.

In 1880, Dayton's education was completed in the Berea Public Schools; and, although only fourteen years old, he took the district examination for a teacher's certificate and passed with highest grades. He did not enter teaching, however, but enrolled in the preparatory school of Baldwin University, now Baldwin-Wallace College, located in Berea. In 1882, Dayton entered Baldwin University itself as a freshman and graduated in 1886 with a Ph.B degree. 24

During the period from 1880 to 1886 his home life was changing also. Harlen D., his second brother, was born in 1880, and Dewey H., his third brother, was born in 1883. Mr. Miller, his father, had entered into a new profession by organizing the first surburban electric railway runing out of Cleveland, which was one of the first that that part of the country had seen. It began as the Cleveland & Berea and later became the nucleus of the Cleveland & Southwestern Railroad. The first was known as Lawrence & Miller and was located in Berea. Dayton had set up his first laboratory in the basement of the building and, by his own words, left a flute there which was later lost. 25 (One wonders if this could have been the missing 'first' flute.)

Spending money for college had to be earned and Dayton took charge of the home vegetable garden. His mother would pay him current store prices for the items he grew. In addition, he worked in his father's store as a bookeeper for fifteen cents an hour on Saturdays and free afternoons. 26

His college studies were most successful and he was considered the most distinguished student of his class. Since we have noted his dual interest in science and in music, it is not surprising to note that the graduation of June 18, 1886, lists him as giving a lecture, "The Sun", and playing a flute solo with full orchestral accompaniment, the Largo from Beethoven's opus 15 Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major. He also read a Valedictory essay to the Phrenocosmian Literary Society, now Alpha Tai Omega, entitled "A Marvellous Machine," which turned out to be the telescope. It is of interest to mention that he became president of the Baldwin-Wallace Board of Trustees in 1936, a position he was to hold until his death, and delivered a second Commencement Address fifty-three years after his first one on June 12, 1939. His subject at the later occasion was "The Spirit of Science in the World of Today."

After graduation in 1886, Dayton worked as an assistant cashier in the Berea National Bank, which was partly owned by his uncle. The money he earned was to be used to further his education. Disliking business, he considered entering Oberlin Conservatory of Music. However, an issue of Scientific American changed his life. He was inspired by the magazine's illustrations of a new twenty-three inch telescope - the world's fourth largest, at the time - which would be used for instruction at Princeton University. In September of 1887, he entered that University to begin studies in astronomy under the famous American astronomer Charles Augustus Young. Since Young was the man who first observed the spectrum of the sun's corona in 1869, Dayton must not have felt more at home, scientifically speaking, than he did during his days at Princeton. 27

As a young Princeton graduate student, Dayton majored in astronomy, which gave him an opportunity to use all of the observatory instruments. His major also gave him a chance to explore physics and further his knowledge of mathematics. In the latter discipline, he took all the courses that Princeton had to offer. In June of 1888, he decided to return to Berea and accept a teaching position at Baldwin University. This 'time-off' from studies at Princeton gave him a year to assess his knowledge in astronomy and to organize the new ideas and concepts he had learned the year before. His new position was as a professor of natural science and, as a result of additional studies at Baldwin, he received his A.M. degree in 1889.

Dayton then left Berea once again and returned to Princeton to receive his D.Sc. degree in June, 1890. He was one of twelve applicants for the doctoral degree, but the only one to be so awarded. This was his first doctoral degree, but not the last. Honorary degrees of Sc.D were conferred on him by Miami of Ohio University in 1924 and Dartmouth College in 1927. An LL.D by Western Reserve University in 1927 and Baldwin-Wallace in 1933, and a D. Eng. by the Case School of Applied Science in 1936 were also conferred on him. His thesis for the first doctorate was written on the orbit and elements of Comet 1889V.

His future at Princeton was all planned. He would go back in the fall of 1890 as a Thaw research fellow in astronomy and work with Professor Young on the new spectograph which was being constructed by Dr. Brashear. However, in August, the young Dr. Miller learned that problems had caused a delay in the making of the large glass prisms required for the spectograph and was asked if he could possible come the following year instead.

This letter actually changed a career in astronomy to one in physics. The next day, young Miller for the first time walked through the north door of the main building of Case School of Applied Science-the building with the first floor complete and the rest under construction after the fire. He met President Staley and Dr. Howe, and proceeded with the story of being a graduate in astronomy under Professor Young and of being ready to teach that subject, as well as physics and mathematics. Dr. Howe was immediately interested. Dr. Staley knew that he needed an instructor. Little reflection was needed as the young man looked bright and enthusiastic. 'You are hired at $600 a year; report to me in September,' said the President. In the fall of 1890, the new institution had a new instructor who was to teach all he had offered to teach, plus descriptive geometry and surveying - subjects he had never studied. It was not very difficult to reach Case from Berea - the steam train would bring him to the old Union Station, and the street car to Case; so, he commuted as he was still a bit of a home boy. 28

During his student days at Princeton, Miller became friendly with a fellow student named Will Easton, whose family lived in the town of Princeton. Miller must have visited the Easton home because he knew Will had a sister, Edith. During his first teaching semester at Case, his thoughts turned to Edith. Finally, he decided to take a trip to Princeton during his Easter recess of 1891 to visit the Easton family. Love must have bloomed, for they were married on June 28, 1893. 29

Music, being so much a part of Miller, was put to romantic use when he wrote several songs dedicated to Edith Easton. The first was completed on April 4, 1892, and was entitled "A Lover's Prayer." Another, "The Audacious Jewel," was dated February 14, 1893. 30

While Edith may have inspired Miller to write the two songs mentioned, they were not his first attempts at music composition. Although his first work is not known, his early opus numbers indicate that he was very much inspired by Richard Wagner. These first musical works were arrangements of famous melodies. For, just as young painters would copy the works of great artists, it was a common practice of young composers and musicians to base their work on famous melodies of renowned composers. Miller's opus 5 was taken from "Lohengrin;" his opus 6 used one of the melodies from "Parsifal;" and, his opus 7 incorporated the "Evening Star" theme. His love of Wagner's music was deep, for he wrote:

Undoubtly at some time or other many have experienced this transcendent effect of music as an emotional stimulus. On at least two occasions the author has been so affected. The music of Wagner's "Parsifal" is especially impressive; upon the second hearing of this opera, he was so transported that it was quite impossible to sleep at all for twenty-four hours. Repeated hearings have been attended with great effect. In 1926 there was an Handel Festival at Crystal Palace in London, under the conductorship of Sir Henry Wood. The performance of Handel's "Messiah" rendered by a chorus of 3,000 voices and an orchestra of 500 musicians provided a depth and subtlety of expression far transcending the power of words to describe. 31

The first dated work was his opus 6, which was completed in March, 1891. His works did not go beyond small instrumental or voice combinations in scope, as he wrote simple songs with little or no developmental sections. Composition was to come to an end in January, 1912, with his opus 31. In the well-kept diary he used for musical works (he had many such diaries for his various and far-reaching activities), he entered the following: Three Album Leaves, op. 31, January 1912; "Last composition!" Apparently, he had lost all interest in composing.

Included in this diary was a pencil list of a proposed program of his own music. However, since no further information is available it is not known if the program was ever performed. He probably planned to be one of the performers; playing the flute, no doubt.

In addition to his marriage in 1893, several other events occurred, one of which was to change the course of scientific history. Miller attended the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and must have taken delight in seeing the scientific exhibits such as the expansion engine, the linotype, and even, possibly, the first Ferris Wheel. It was at this exposition, however, that he pruchased a set of Crookes tubes - a small investment compared to his later use of these materials. These tubes were invented by Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), an English physicist and authority of the time on the industrial uses of chemistry. They were electric vacuum tubes from which all of the air had been pumped out. Metal wires, serving as electrodes, were then sealed into opposite ends of the tube. When the electrodes were connected with a source of high voltage, changes took place in small amount of gas that was left in the tube. These changes and their effect were later to be called 'cathode rays,' which are streams of electrons. 32

It was at this time, also, that Dr. Miller was made an assistant professor of physics at Case. The year 1893. By 1895, he was to become physics department chairman. Thus began an association with Case that would last for fifty years.

Concurrent with the happy and fortunate events of 1893, we must note one happening that must have saddened Dayton Miller. The Miller family had always been, as they are even to this day, a very close family. Knowing that Dayton and his new wife would remain in Cleveland, the decision to move to California must have been a difficult one for Dayton's father to make. He did, however, consider the health of Dayton's sister, Harriet, in his decision, and the entire family, with the exception of Dayton and his wife, moved to Santa Barbara, California. The western climate must have agreed with all of Dayton's family because not one chose to leave during their lifetimes; and his sister, Harriet, lived to see her ninety-third birthday. His father, upon arrival in Santa Barbara, started the Consolidated Railway Company there - thus, continuing his career in electric street cars.


Chapters 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 |
Abstract of Master's Report | List Of Figures | Appendix | Footnotes | Bibliography

Dayton C. Miller, His Life, Work, and Contributions | Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection Home