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Whipple Library

Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Portrait of Mr Robert S. Whipple

A brief history of the Whipple Library

The origins of the Whipple Museum and Library lie together in a bequest made by Mr Robert Stewart Whipple to the University in 1944. R.S. Whipple (1871-1953) was Managing Director of the Cambridge Scientific Instruments Company for thirty years from 1905 and had a strong personal interest in the history of science. He was a collector of instruments, models and books, and his donation of approx. 1000 instruments and approx. 1200 early printed books was intended to further research and teaching in the subject in the University.

After a short period in storage on Madingley Road and Girton College the instruments and some books were transferred to premises in Corn Exchange Street where a small museum was opened in 1951 by the first Curator of the collections, Mr A. Rupert Hall. Eight years later the collections moved again, this time to their permanent home on Free School Lane, in the old Perse School Hall, freed up by the removal of the laboratory of Physical Chemistry to new premises on Lensfield Road. By 1972, History and Philosophy of Science was an independent Department in the University, and the Whipple collections were managed in close contact with its teaching and research activities.

As the Department grew a modern collection of books was established to complement Whipple's historic bequest, and this was housed from the 1970s in an extension behind the Perse Room. Here it remained and grew to become one of the largest and most comprehensive libraries for History and Philosophy of Science in the UK.

Further reading

J.A. Bennett, 'Museums and the establishment of the history of science at Oxford and Cambridge', British Journal for the History of Science 30 (1997), 29-46.

F. Willmoth & L.C. Taub (eds), The Whipple Museum of the History of Science: Instruments and interpretations, to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of R.S. Whipple's gift to the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, 2006).