Friday, February 24, 2012

Formicariums

Better known as ant farms, these transparent devices were introduced to the general public by Frank Austin in 1929 and patented in June, 1931. Austin, Dartmouth class of 1895, was an inventor and developed wide variety of gadgets and toys as part of his "Austin Workshop" for children.  The ant farms proved to be wildly popular.  During the peak of the ant farm craze in the 1930s, Austin and his staff shipped more than 400 ant houses per day from his workshop in Hanover, NH.  In addition to ant farms, Austin also designed and built cricket houses, observational bee hives, and butterfly-rearing kits.

Despite the success of the ant farm and his other "housing" projects, it might be argued that Austin's most influential work was his involvement in the field of medical imaging.  In 1896, Austin, together with Professor Edwin Frost and Dr. Gilman Frost took the first American x-ray photograph of the human body when they imaged the wrist of Eddie McCarthy who had fallen while ice skating.

Eddie McCarthy's wrist
Eddie McCarthy being x-rayed
Austin's papers contain images, business correspondence, bills of sales and receipts related to "The Austin Workshop" as well as materials on his various inventions. The collection also contains several of Austin's short writings: "The Autobiography of Sir Lancelot by Himself," "Honey Bee," "Bumble Bees," "The Ants of King Solomon," "The Lazy Males of Antville," and other ant related pieces.

Ask for MS-186 to see Austin's papers as well as the photo file for "X-Ray".  A guide to Austin's papers is available.

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