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Special Exhibition Label: 'Eccentricity: Unexpected Objects and Irregular Behaviour' (10/5/2011 - 16/10/2011)

A piano and a suitcase

The 'piano', or logic machine, was made in 1869 to the design of the economist and logician William Stanley Jevons, of Owen's College in Manchester, who had it constructed by a Salford clockmaker. A forerunner of the computer, it could solve a range of logical problems presented to it by 'playing' them on the keyboard. In 1860 Jevons had confided to his diary some of his feelings on his development of symbolic logic:

As I awoke in the morning the sun was shining brightly into my room, there was a consciousness on my mind that I was the discoverer of the true logic of the future.

The suitcase has a more prosaic justification for survival: it was used by the Oxford Professor of Chemistry and Nobel Prizewinner, Frederick Soddy, to contain his lantern slides. Despite his celebrity in radiochemistry, he held some decidedly eccentric views, for example advocating the irradiation of crops to enhance their growth. His economic theories were dismissed as those of a crank and he published a geometry paper in the journal Nature in 1936 in the form of a poem. The first verse of 'The Kiss Precise' runs:

For pairs of lips to kiss maybe
Involves no trigonometry.
'Tis not so when four circles kiss
Each one the other three.
To bring this off the four must be
As three in one or one in three.
If one in three, beyond a doubt
Each gets three kisses from without.
If three in one, then is that one
Thrice kissed internally.

Inventory no.

The Logic Piano, designed by William Stanley Jevons, Manchester, 1869

The machine, designed to solve logical problems for illustrating Jevons's theories and 'capable of exhibiting an answer to any question which may be put to it concerning the possible combinations which form any class', was described in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1870.

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