Case School: The Evolving History

Department of Physics


Physics instruction was started in the sophomore year, continuing for three years, and all majors in Physics had to write a senior thesis.

In 1889, Professor Michelson resigned and was succeeded by Dr. Harry F. Reid as Head of the Physics Department. In 1893, Dr. Reid resigns and Dr. Dayton Miller becomes the department head in 1895.  At that time, the Physics department occupied five large rooms on the first floor of the Main Building and nine rooms in the basement. 

Technology in the physics laboratory that year consisted of: comparator, balance, hectogram balance, reversible pendulum, chronometer and chronograph, cathetometers, dividing engines, level trier, harmonograph, tuning forks and organ pipes, standard thermometers, spectometers, concave grating spectroscope, chemical spectroscopes, diffraction and inference apparatus, and more..

In 1900, Harry W. Springsteen is awarded the first M.S. in physics.


Due to Dr. Charles Howe's fundraising efforts, John D. Rockefeller accepted to fund the construction of two buildings, the Rockefeller Physics building and the Rockefeller Mining and Metallurgy building.  The Rockefeller Physics laboratory opened in 1906 and continues to be used until current times.

The Physics department was at the forefront of the advancements in the field, both as technology and course offerings. With the help of the United States Weather Bureau, the department installed a weather station on the roof of the Physics laboratory in 1916. The station was equipped with a complete set of meteorological instruments and Dr. W.H. Alexander, the official in charge of the Cleveland U.S. Weather Bureau station, gave lectures to Case students. In 1925, the Department also installed a radio receiving station with the most up-to-date equipment available at that time.
By 1922, the course offerings included a course in Theory of Radio Communication taught by Dr. John R. Martin and  courses in X-Ray and Crystal Structures that were taught by Dr. Christian Nusbaum.  

Dr. Dayton Miller, in collaboration with Edward Morley,  continued the experiments of ether drift detection started by Michelson, and confirmed the null results in 1904. His work resulted in developing the most sensitive interferometer in the world at that time. Miller had many research interests, including x-rays and acoustics. He was the first to take a full body x-ray. He had an impressive collections of flutes he used to develop the phonodeik, a machine capable to record sound waves. His experience in acoustics aided the U.S. Government during the WWI research on sound and shell shock.


The Physics Department continued to update its curriculum offerings and introduced new courses in Theory of Electricity and Magnetism, Harmonic Analysis, Electronic Vacuum Tubes, General Spectroscopy, Radiation, and Quantum Theory by 1933. In 1933, the department built a 20 foot tower on the roof of the physics building to study lightening photography. In 1946, the department added a program in Nuclear Physics.

In 1933, the department hired the first female, Jean Filmore, who was hired as the departmental secretary.