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The Altgeld Math Models Collection

The Mathematical Model Collection scattered across display cases throughout Altgeld Hall at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign is one of the greatest of its kind in the world.  The history of the collection can be traced back to Edgar Townsend, who was hired as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Illinois during the 1893 Chicago World Columbian Exposition.  Felix Klein was at the exhibition showcasing the German models which were being produced at the time.  Six years later, Townsend went to Gttingen, Germany, to study under Hilbert.  Gttingen at the time was the epicenter of the model production efforts, and upon completing his dissertation, Townsend returned to the University of Illinois and ordered a full set of the available models.  Not satisfied with the existing collection, he hired Arnold Emch in 1911 and commissioned him to construct a number of custom pieces never manufactured anywhere else.

At least 380 of the models are still on display today and the collection as a whole illustrates: "Geometric forms and their topological properties as they occur in the various branches of algebraic geometry, differential geometry, algebra, and some special fields of analysis; also mechanisms and linkages for the description of conics and trochoids, and the illustration of problems in the geometry of movements."

Please take a moment to learn more about our efforts to preserve and restore the collection and learn ways you can help.

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