In my day, we didn’t have oscilloscopes … we used fire!

Craft & Design Science
In my day, we didn’t have oscilloscopes … we used fire!


If you should have the opportunity to visit Paris’ Musée des arts et métiers, you’d be wise to clear your schedule for the day. Even after reading Brian Jepson’s recent post covering this maker’s museum, I was unprepared for the sheer size, depth and general awesomeness of the collection. From early astrolabes and handmade scientific apparatus through to Cray’s supercomputer, the museum offers a rare view of historical technology and invention.


Being a big fan of cymatics, waveforms, and sound in general, I was quite psyched to see one of Rudolph Koenig’s acoustic tone analyzer’s firsthand. An ancestor of today’s oscilloscope, the device uses a series of brass resonators, with small flames to determine the nearest frequency of a given sound. The attached rotating mirror allows the user to more easily see which tuned resonator’s flame is flickering the most, thus indicating the dominant pitch. If that explanation doesn’t quite cut it for you, be sure to see the videos on CWRU’s Fourier analyzer page

Oh – and for more pics from my visit, peruse the relevant photoset.


8 thoughts on “In my day, we didn’t have oscilloscopes … we used fire!

  1. ryanh says:

    I am sure glad I heard about this museum just before a recent trip to Paris. It is filled with amazing exhibits of art combined with mechanics before the modern age of mass production. I only had 3 hours which was no where near enough time. I’d allocate at least 5 depending on your level of interest. The helmholtz resonators pictured above which were used in an early experiment to measure the speed of light really blew me away as being very simple and innovative in a way not seen in design anymore. It’s a great museum, don’t miss it!

  2. Apis says:

    Awesome! I wish I known about this last time I was there. :O

  3. crimony says:

    Strictly speaking, it’s a Spectrum Analyser rather than an oscilloscope.

    Still cool though.

    1. Collin Cunningham says:

      correct – on both counts!

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