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Fascination for Flutes

Some people might say that the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection represents more than mere fascination with this instrument. At nearly 1,700 specimens, the Miller flute collection is one of the world's most extensive assemblages devoted to the history and performance of a single instrument.

Claude Laurent, "Three Glass Flutes" (left to right) Paris, 1813 Dayton C. Miller, 1921

Miller was an acoustician and musician born in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville in 1866. Ever the idiosyncratic scientist, during his 1886 commencement exercises he gave a lecture on "The Sun" and played a flute solo with orchestral accompaniment. Miller then earned a Ph.D. in astronomy at Princeton University and eventually came to head the physics department of the Case School of Applied Science (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland. His interests in acoustics and music-making were chiefly responsible for starting the collection.

Miller died in Cleveland on Feb. 22, 1941, just as he was preparing to move with his entire collection of flutes, books and related materials to the Library of Congress to complete his varied investigations that remained unfinished and unpublished. For example, during World War I, at the request of the government, 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 led to the results eventually reported in his "Sound Waves, Shape and Speed." Among his other published books: "The Science of Musical Sounds," "Sparks, Lightning and Cosmic Rays" and (translated and annotated) Theobald Boehm's "The Flute and Flute-Playing."

Images of many of Miller's flutes, including one owned and played by the great musician Frederick the Great, are in the "Five Flutes" presentation. Flutes made of gold and glass are also featured.

American Memory, the Web site of more than 8.5 million items, which includes the Miller flute presentation, is rich with other presentations relating to music. The birth of the recording industry is recounted in "Emile Berliner"; "The Leonard Bernstein Collection" recounts the career of this creative force in the 20th century; and Bernstein's friend and colleague is the subject of "The Aaron Copland Collection." Music from an era long ago can be studied and listened to in contemporary recordings of "Band Music from the Civil War Era."

A. Claude Laurent, "Three Glass Flutes" (left to right) Paris, 1813 (Owned by President James Madison, DCM 0378); Paris, 1844 (DCM 0011); Paris, 1811 (DCM 0850). Music Division.

B. Dayton C. Miller, 1921. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Call No.: Box No.: Miller; Item ID: m0048