Sanborn galvanometer


Accession Number: 2016.zoo.6

Instrument Name: Sanborn galvanometer


The instrument is propped upon a ledge in an upright position within a large wooden case. It has a steel body with a horizontal ocular piece on the right. Adjacent to the ocular piece is a circular glass window with another circular glass window above it. Directly above the second glass window is a small silver knob and adjacent to it on the right is another larger silver knob. Both knobs can rotate and look like they were used to adjust the instrument in some way. Directly below both circular glass windows is another small silver knob that is able to rotate. Slightly above and to the left and right of this silver knob are two identical black knobs with arrows on them. They can also rotate to the left and right. Directly below the small silver knob is a panel that consists of three large black dials, a voltmeter, and four switches. The three black knobs are adjacent to each other and the voltmeter is adjacent to these knobs on the right of the galvanometer. Directly below each of the dials and the voltmeter are switches that move left to right.

There are two identical holes in the galvanometer’s base below the second and third switch on the panel. The galvanometer is screwed onto the base but can removed from the case by sliding it out of the ledge. On the left of the base are fragments of rubber with holes in it. The rubber looks like it used to be a belt of some sort. Chords are attached to the galvanometer and are located on the left of the instrument on the reverse side. There is a lightbulb at the end of one chord. At the end of another chord is a jack to plug something in. Another chord ends in two adjacent rectangular plates, which are attached to the chord by a black, red, and white chord. It looks like the galvanometer ran on electricity. There are three prongs attached to the rectangular plates that looks like other parts can be attached to them. To the right of the chords on the middle reverse side of the galvanometer are two adjacent large cylinders with perforated sides. There is string that looks like it is wrapped around the cylinders underneath their perforated sides.

The galvanometer is inside a large, brown wooden case. The front of the case has a key hole and can be removed in order to view the galvanometer inside. The inside of the front of the case has green felt and a company mark below the green felt. There is a handle above the key hole, on the top of the case. In the middle of the right side of the case there is a circular opening that can be covered by a silver circular covering from the inside of the case. This circular opening lines up with the ocular piece of the galvanometer. On the lower back of the case is another circular opening that can also be covered up by a silver circular cover from the inside of the case.

Primary Materials:

Galvanometer: steel/ iron, aluminum, plastic, rubber, glass. Case: wood, metal.


Panel on lower front of galvanometer: Dials (left to right): “TO NEUTRALIZE” “TO CONNECT TO PATIENT” “TO CONNECT STRING.” Switches (left to right): “TO STANDARDIZE” “TO REVERSE” “MAIN SWITCH” “TO SET ON.”

On voltmeter: “WESTON ELECTRICAL INSTRUMENT CORP., NEWARK, N.J., U.S.A.” “WESTON MODEL 506 TYPE-A PAT. 1,579,849 1,597,256 1,635,595 1,661,214″

The inside front of the case: “MADE BY SANBORN COMPANY Cambridge, Mass. USA”

Dimensions (cm): Height = 41, Width = 42, Length = 26


The Sanborn galvanometer was mostly likely used to measure electric currents from specimens as it connects to “patients” and measures volts through a voltmeter.


The rubber around the electrical chords is deteriorating and is cracked and flaking in some areas. There are scratches and staining on the ocular piece. A screw is missing from the left side bottom of the instrument. Lots of dust on and surrounding the instrument in the case.

Manufacturer: Sanborn Company


The Sanborn galvanometer belonged to the Zoology department at the University of Toronto before being acquired by UTSIC in 2016, ten years after the University of Toronto Department of Zoology ceased to exist. It is unknown if this instrument was used at the University of Toronto, but it is possible that it was. It is also unknown who owned the instrument within the Department of Zoology.

Additional Information and References:

The Sanborn company was most known for manufacturing electrocardiograms. After researching the Sanborn company and the history of the electrocardiogram (ECG), it is possible, but not certain that the Sanborn galvanometer may be an early portable ECG machine as it looks similar, albeit smaller and compact, to a dual electrocardiograph at the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University:

See the following resources for more information about the Sanborn company:

For more information on the history of ECGs see the following resources:

Burch, G. and DePasquale, N. (1990). A History of Electrocardiography. San Francisco, CA: Norman Publishing

Donated to UTSIC: No

Historical Notes:

The Sanborn Company was founded by Dr. Frank Sanborn in 1917 and was acquired by Hewlett Packard in 1961. The company was widely known for manufacturing electrocardiograms, but also made other scientific instruments such as oscilloscopes (see for more information).

To research this object, Google searches were conducted to learn more about the Sanborn company and the types of instruments they manufactured. Janet Mannone was contacted through email to see if she could provide information about the provenance of the Sanborn galvanometer, but this was unsuccessful. Dr. Harold Atwood, who was a faculty member of the Department of Zoology in 1965 was also contacted through email to see if he could provide any information about this instrument and who may have used it in the Department of Zoology. Currently awaiting his response. Also contacted Ms. Arlene Dickson at Agilent Technologies to see if she would be able to identify the object, but she has not responded to the email.

Also consulted the following book:
Craigie, E.H. (1966). A history of the Department of Zoology of the University of Toronto up to 1962. Toronto: Department of Zoology.

This book gave a good background on the origins and professors in the Department of Zoology and brief outline of subjects taught and types of experiments conducted at the Department of Zoology from it’s early years to 1962. This book did not really help in identifying the object but did shed some light on the Department of Zoology, which no one seems to know much about at the University of Toronto.