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History of the Collection

P. Musschenbroek. Dissertatio Physica Experimentalis de Magnete, 1754

MIT’s Vail Collection is a wide-ranging assemblage of books, journals, offprints, and other materials published between the late 15th century and the early 20th. The collection is particularly strong in the history of electricity, magnetism, and electrical engineering. Additional strengths include animal magnetism, lighter-than-air travel, telegraphy, and early telephony, as well as works documenting international exhibitions held during the 19th century. Numerous other topics are also represented, and the collection includes thousands of pamphlets – many of them rare – on various subjects. Vail is the largest rare book collection within the MIT Libraries’ rare and special collections.

During a three-year project, the entire collection received essential conservation and in-depth cataloging, thanks to a generous gift from Thomas F. Peterson, Jr. (MIT 1957). The project culminated in the fall of 2012, with an exhibit in the MIT Libraries’ Maihaugen Gallery marking the 100th anniversary of the Vail Collection’s 1912 arrival at MIT.

The collection is named for Theodore N. Vail, the first president of AT&T. Vail donated the collection to the Institute, which named it in his honor. But Mr. Vail did not create the collection that came to bear his name. That distinction belongs to George Edward Dering.

Continue reading History of the Collection:

George Edward Dering: Man on a Wire
Theodore Vail
The Vail Collection at MIT