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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Inventor William Buffham

The village of Millburn in north Lake County is on the National Register of Historic Places for its wonderful historic buildings. The location is also significant for one of its early settlers--William Buffham (1801-1871).

Buffham was born in London, England and became interested in mechanical devices at an early age. He came to Millburn with his wife and six children in 1850 and set up an optical instrument shop. Buffham may have been attracted to Millburn by the fact that it was settled by English and Scottish immigrants, and had a reputation as a hot-bed of abolitionism and intellectual activity. His mother's family in England had been active in abolition and prison reform.

Buffham is noteworthy for being a maker of optical and astronomical equipment at a time when there were only a few manufacturers of scientific instruments in the United States. While three of his sons worked the family's 140-acre farm, William and his eldest son, William Sharpe made microscopes and telescopes.

This microscope was made by Buffham while still living in England in 1842. His great-great grandchildren played with it, not realizing its significance until they reached adulthood. (LCDM 97.26.3; Photo by Mark Wallenfang/Shooting Start Studio)






Buffham also made a collection of biological slides to view on his microscope, and built a cabinet for the slides. Shown is one of Buffham's glass slides of an algae specimen made in 1846. The enlargement of the algae (shown in circles) was made by Baxter Healthcare for the museum.

Around 1855, Buffham made a Gregorian telescope. This type of telescope used a concave mirror that inverted the image to allow direct observation of terrestrial objects. Buffham's descendants had been unaware of his manufacturing telescopes until one was found by an antiques dealer out east in the 1990s. (LCDM 97.26.1; Photo by Mark Wallenfang/Shooting Start Studio)

This detail of the Gregorian telescope is engraved
"Buffham, Millburn, Lake Co., Ill." (LCDM 97.26.1; Photo by Mark Wallenfang/Shooting Start Studio)


The Buffhams moved to Racine, Wisconsin in 1868 when his eldest son bought a painting business there. Buffham continued to make microscopes and optical instruments in Racine, presumably until his death in 1871. Shown is William Buffham's monument at Mount Cemetery, Racine.

Buffham's telescope, microscope and slide cabinet are on permanent exhibition at the museum.


1 comment:

Beverley Dillon said...

I think he is an ancestor of mine. Nice to know physics runs in the family!