History and Credits

History of the Chart of Electromagnetic Radiations

This Interactive is based on a chart created in 1938 for the W.M. Welch Scientific Company of Chicago, Illinois. The second edition of the chart is the basis of our Interactive; it was published by W.M Welch in 1944. The W.M Welch Scientific Company had its early beginnings in the 1880s when W.M. Welch, a 24-year-old Iowa school superintendent, resolved to remedy a nation-wide problem of poor record-keeping systems for schools. Welch began his first commercial venture of providing the nation's first system of awards for school attendance and scholarship including elementary school diplomas. The small business grew over the next two decades and eventually moved to Chicago, Illinois and acquired a small company that produced proprietary products for physics, chemistry and biology education. The W.M Welch company eventually merged with the E.H. Sargeant and Company to form what is known today as the Sargeant-Welch Company of Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Sargeant-Welch is a popular supplier of scientific supplies to academic institutions across the United States and the world. (Source: History of Sargeant-Welch)

In the early 1930s, W.M. Welch published a wall-sized chart of the Periodic Table and sold it to academic institutions across the United States. View Chart. The Chart was designed by Henry D. Hubbard of the U.S. National Bureau of Standards and became one of the first commercially available wall charts for display in science classrooms. The chart was regularly revised by the NBS and high schools could purchase the charts with aid from the U.S. government. As such, the chart became a popular addition to many high school and college classrooms and an excellent source of revenue for the W.M. Welch Scientific Company. (Source: The National Museum of American History)

The idea for the Chart of Electromagnetic Radiations came from high school teacher and science enthusiast Dwight L. Baar. Mr. Barr taught science at  J. Sterling Morton High School in Cicero, Illinois. Like most Chicago high school teachers in the 1930s, Barr did not make enough money to support his wife and four children and so he resorted to working as a consultant for the W.M. Welch company. Baar's contributions to Welch's enterprise involved reviewing textbooks and helping design experiment kits for classroom use. 

While at Morton High School, one of Barr's students won a Illinois Junior Academy of Science prize for an art project on the Electromagnetic Spectrum. The project included magazine cut-outs of radio towers, light bulbs, and X-ray machines that took up space on a 10-foot roll of butcher paper. The following year, another student of Barr's went one step further and hand-drew the various transmitters and receivers on another chart. Thanks to the inspiration of his students, Barr presented his idea for a Chart of Electromagnetic Radiations to Welch and spent the next two years working on assembling the information into what would become a 5-foot wide wall chart to be sold by W.M. Welch Scientific Company. 

In the process of creating the chart, Barr was sent to Washington to discuss his ideas and progress with Hubbard of the National Bureau of Standards. Because of the success of the Periodic Table of Atoms, Hubbard was Welch's chosen editor for the Chart of Electromagnetic Radiations. When Barr returned to Chicago, Hubbard asked that his name not be included on the chart since the vast majority of the work was Barr's. Feeling the need to include a big name on the chart, Welch contracted with 1927 Nobel Laureate in Physics and University of Chicago physics professor Arthur Compton. Compton agreed to the project but had little to do with the production of the chart. He left most of the advising to his assistant R.J. Stephenson.

Stephenson reportedly reorganized much of what Barr and Hubbard had decided upon and returned the chart to Barr. Barr was heartbroken about the changes and eventually re-organized the chart back to its original order. Artist E. Borsone had his own disagreements with Barr, arguing that the chart was so packed with information that it was incomprehensible. Borsone wanted to have less information and more space to allow the artwork to stand out. Barr won this argument as well and the original chart was presented to the public for the first time at the 1936 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Indianapolis. Commenting on its information density, one scientist suggested that the Chart be sold with a bottle of headache pills. After some additional, last-minute additions, the Chart of Electromagnetic Radiations was published and printed in 1938. While it never did become popular with high schools, it was widely purchased by colleges and laboratories. (Source: Physics Buzz blog and page 10 of the January 2017 edition of the Journal of the Caxton Club)

The Chart of Electromagnetic Radiations re-emerged into the scientific spotlight in 2013. The poster had been hiding n the closet of an unused office at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL). A custodian discovered the chart and was about to toss it in the trash when a scientist recognized its nostalgic value and rescued it from the trash heap. It has since been scanned and posted on the LLNL's Flickr pages, with the highest resolution scan resulting in a 107 MB file (the 10000x6958-pixel version). The Flickr page for the infographic includes the following description: "If you're into scientific antiques, you have to examine the details in this 1944 poster from the W.M Welch Scientific Company: 'Chart of Electromagnetic Radiations.' It was found tucked away in the back of an unused office years ago, but now hangs framed in a high-traffic hallway populated by Lawrence Livermore engineers." (https://www.flickr.com/photos/llnl/9403051123/)



The original infographic was scanned at several resolutions and made available by the Lawrence Livermore National Labs through their Flickr account. The Flickr page can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/llnl/9403051123/. Those interested in viewing all available sizes and resolutions of the infographic can find links to those varying sized images at https://www.flickr.com/photos/llnl/9403051123/sizes/l. The artwork is made available by LLNL under a Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons license. The Physics Classroom is appreciative of Lawrence Livermore's efforts to preserve this work of art and make it available to others to use and remix. We personally have benefitted from their generosity as it has allowed to build this Interactive around such an excellent piece of scientific artwork. And we make our rendition of this infographic available to others under the same Creative Commons license.



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