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The following history of the State Microscopical Society of Illinois was written by Bob Kuksuk and Jim Gerakaris and originally published in the January, 1986 issue of MICRO-NOTES II.

The organization which we now know as the State Microscopical Society of Illinois was actually organized as the Chicago Microscopical Club in December of 1868. Many of those involved in the organization of this microscopically orientated group were active members and founders of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and it is not difficult to understand that they had originally proposed the group to become a division of CAS. However, it was finally decided that both organizations would benefit if the Chicago Microscopical Club remained independent but closely affiliated with the academy. At a meeting in December 22, 1886, the Chicago Microscopical Club adopted its Constitution and by-laws. Appointments made at the same meeting resulted in the choice of the following officers:

  • Walter W. Allport, President
  • Henry F. Munroe, Secretary
  • Sammuel A. Briggs, Curator / Librarian
  • George M. Higginson, Treasurer

The Chicago Microscopical Club was granted a charter by the State of Illinois on March 31, 1869. Less than one month later, the members decided to reorganize as the State Microscopical Society of Illinois.

The founders of this organization are credited with forming one of the first scientific organizations in the United States, yet the idea of forming a microscopically oriented Society was not unique. An organization chartered just four years earlier, the Quekett Microscopical Club, and the already 30 year old Royal Microscopical Society, both of England, provided a pattern to follow.

The organization and activities of the SMSI closely resembled those of the RMS and this similarity was at least partly responsible for its immediate success. By the end of its first year of existence, the SMSI boasted a membership of almost ninety active members who attended the thirty-one meetings held during that year.

One of the devices which contributed to the royal societies success was the "Conversazione" meeting where members were encouraged to display their instruments and experiments. This practice was adopted by SMSI and its first conversazione was held in May, 1869 at the Chicago home of member Joseph T. Reyerson (later the founder of Joseph T. Reyerson & Son Steel).

The success of meetings is often measured in terms of the numbers of attendees present. The more than 500 guests proves the outstanding success of this meeting. This attracted the attention of other microscopical organizations, including the Quekett Microscopical Club (figure 1).


The State Microscopical Society of Illinois

Under this somewhat pretentious title a file of "The Chicago Sunday Times," date May 30th, 1869, devotes six columns, with the heading of "Microscopy" in large capitals, to an account of the first conversazione of the Society, and we are also favored with its history. It seems that the in early part of last winter "The Chicago Microscopical Club was formed in connection with the Chicago Academy of Natural Sciences" but evidently taking the cue form another society at home (which is mentioned by name), it is thought necessary to make the infant club into a fashionable society; and accordingly "a bill was immediately prepared and sent to the State Legislature, and a law was passed, incorporating the State Microscopical Society of Illinois." It is stated that the number of members is sixty, and on the occasion of the Soiree 50 microscopes were exhibited." What effect the charter of incorporation may have in stimulating real work we are not yet told, but doubtless we shall see the results in due time.


figure 1. A reprint from the Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club, Vol. 1, 203-294 (1869).

Certainly, the success of SMSI's first year of existence was quite gratifying to its founders, and interest in the SMSI (as well as the microscope itself) continued to grow over the following few years. One Joint meeting between the members of the SMSI and the American Microscopical Society in 1883 held claim to being one of the largest meetings (of any type) held in this country to date. The meeting held at the Calumet Club House, lasted three days and allowed attendees to inspect two hundred and fifty instruments placed on display and discuss mutual interests.

Members of SMSI soon realized the importance of communicating with people all over the world with similar interests. Their concerns led to the establishment of the official Journal of SMSI, The Lens. In 1871. S.A. Briggs (former president of the Chicago Board of Education) served as editor.

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