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Pan-American Exposition of 1901

The Pan-American Microscope 20th Century Wonder.

One of the so-called "wonders" exhibited at the Pan-American Exposition, promotors claimed that this pocket-sized microscope was going to revolutionize the work of not only medicine, but all professions:

This microscope is so concise it can be carried in the pocket. Yet it is so strong in magnifying power that it takes the place of a compound mocroscope. So simple in construction that a child can operate it as well as a medical doctor. ... It is useful to the medical man, to the professional man, to the mechanic, to the farmer, and in fact to everyone aloke.

It is especially used for the following purposes: To examine blood, water, urine, and all fluids, as well as seeds, minerals, flowers, plants, insects, diamonds, jewelry, plated-ware, coins, bank notes, hard signatures, splinters in the flesh, particles in the eye, and in fact it magnifies anything. ...

"Agents" of the M.G. Thompson Company of Buffalo, N.Y. and Toronto, Canada promoted the "23 Grand Prize Medals & Diplomas awarded this microscope by the Leading Expositions of the World." It is not clear how the microscope fared at the Pan-American Exposition although with the variety of specimens provided for the inquisitive visitor to inspect using the device, one can assume that it was one of the more interesting exhibits.

The Pan-American Microscope. Source: Microscope and accompanying pamphlet produced by the M.G. Thompson [Company.] Courtesy of B. Battleson. Engraved on the microscope: "PAN AMERICAN EXPOSITION -- 1901 BUFFALO N.Y. -- PRICE 1.00"

The Pan=American Microscope was simply a drum-style microscope similar to those invented as early as the mid-18th century. It differed from traditional microscopes in its compacted size of 2 inches and the lack of a mirror for reflecting light. With no means of adjusting magnification, it was not a very sophisticated "invention" and certainly not the type of instrument that would be used in medicine, despite what it's promoters may have claimed. This "20th century wonder" was, however, typical of the microscopes sold as toys and to hobbyists well into the 1920's. Even so, at the "Price $1.00. No more, no less," it was a rather expensive "toy," so it's "usefulness to the medical man" may have been highlighted to justify the cost.1

An interesting aside with regard to the M. G. Thompson Company: The 1900 Buffalo Directory lists no such company under manufacturers of microscopes although there is a listing for an M. G. Thompson under the heading of "lumber." There are no listings for the name under either heading in the 1898 and 1902 directories.2 In the Official Catalog and Guide Book to the Pan-American Exposition,3 M. G. Thompson was listed in the Exposition Concessions section, with an address of 93 Yonge St., Toronto, Ont. Certainly the M. G. Thompson listed in the Buffalo directory could have been the same company listed in Toronto. It would not be beyond speculation, since temporary relocation of many business into the Buffalo area for the sole purpose of promoting and selling their wares at the Exposition was certainly common. If, indeed, these companies were one and the same, the peddling of both lumber and microscopes would certainly have been a curious combination.


  1. More information on the history of the microscope and microscopy can be found on the Molecular Expressions web site. See Michael W. Davidson, Mortimer Abramowitz's Museum of Microscopy Section at This site is maintained by the Optical Microscopy Division of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory a joint venture of The Florida State University, the University of Florida, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
  2. The Buffalo Directory, Buffalo, N.Y. : The Courier Company of Buffalo, vols. 1898, 1900, 1902.
  3. Official Catalogue and Guide Book to the Pan-American Exposition. Buffalo, N.Y.: Charles Ahrhart, 1901, p. 95.