McCrone Microscopes & Accessories: The Microscopist’s Partner—A Historical Perspective

Abstract

The Instruments Division of McCrone Associates was formed in the early 1960’s by Dr. Walter C. McCrone, who wanted to offer industrial microscopists a single source for their microscope accessories and supplies, rather than purchasing them through dozens of different companies.  So McCrone, slowly over time, established a supply house where industrial light microscopists could find all of their supplies in one convenient place.

The first evidence of McCrone selling products to the public dates back to 1962. Within the bibliography of an article he had written on the subject of simple chemical microscopy experiments, were a few sentences telling the reader how to order their own set of reagents from McCrone Associates (1).   During this same period McCrone was offering in-house fabricated accessories such as the McCrone Dispersion Staining Objective (DSO) to microscopists who would inquire about them.  Industrial light microscopists, including those working at McCrone Associates, developed many of the microscopy tools and accessories that would eventually be offered for sale to the public. Some of the first instruments offered by McCrone were manufactured by McCrone Associates in England and included the DSO, the Hartshorne Rotation Apparatus, and the Tilting Stage.  This paper takes an historical look at what evolved from literally a single desk drawer, to the present day company that caters to the needs of the microscopist worldwide.

The Accessories Era

Microscopy is a science relying largely on the user’s ability to recognize and identify particles visually.  Well-trained microscopists can identify thousands of particles simply by sight, utilizing observations such as particle morphology and noting some basic optical properties. Sometimes simple observations alone are not enough and the microscopist must employ a particular accessory to the microscope in order to solve a complex problem.  Other times it can be the preparation or isolation of the sample that presents a challenge, requiring the microscopist to create special particle handling tools that aren’t commercially available. Initially McCrone and his Associates presented tools and accessories to the industrial microscopy community through publications, word of mouth, formal instruction, and finally advertisements. The early history of McCrone’s Instruments Division can be traced almost exclusively through The Microscope, a journal, Walter McCrone purchased from its British founder Arthur Lawrence Edward Barron in 1962 (Figure 1)

The first written evidence of McCrone offering products for sale to the public appears in his first publication in The Microscope (1).  The article entitled “Some Simple Chemical Experiments with the Microscope” outlined a number of experiments that could be carried out under the polarized light microscope. Within the bibliography, the first reference describes to the reader how to go about ordering materials described within the article (Figure 2) For six dollars the reader could obtain more than 30 small vials of reagents, drawn-out glass tips, and two small squares of polarizing filters, in order to convert a medical microscope into a polarized light microscope.

During the same period McCrone Associates in Chicago had been developing several accessories for the microscope along with McCrone Associates in England.  One of the first instruments sold was the 10X DSO.  The objective was first offered for sale to McCrone Associate’s clients who inquired about them after learning the DSO had been used to analyze their samples.  In 1963 McCrone Associates placed an ad for the objective in the issue of The Microscope, combined with an informal journal McCrone had developed called The Crystal Front (2).  Pictured with the DSO was the Hartshorne Single Rotation Apparatus, and mentioned were several other McCrone manufactured instruments (Figure 3).

In the next issue of The Microscope McCrone published an article on the topic of dispersion staining (3).  Contained within the article is a picture of the DSO that includes the specifications of the instrument (Figure 4).  The reader learns that the McCrone Associates DSO has both an annular and a central stop that were formed by evaporating a metal onto a circular glass plate.  The plate could be rotated to orient either stop precisely at the back focal plane of the objective.  There was a third, open position available so that it could be used as a standard 10X objective.  By the end of the article the reader not only learns the importance of dispersion staining and how to go about obtaining good dispersion staining colors, but also the versatility of McCrone’s DSO.

McCrone’s microscopy accessories were usually first developed within the microscopy community of McCrone Associates, and eventually offered to the public.  Seeing McCrone exclusive products within the journal publications became a common “advertising” practice for McCrone. Many of McCrone’s most successful products would first appear published in articles within The Microscope, followed by a formal advertisement at the end of the issue.

The Reference Era

Throughout the middle 1960’s and early 1970’s many of the same instruments such as the DSO and the Hartshorne Rotation Apparatus continued to be advertised in The Microscope.  In March of 1967 McCrone began to produce other products that focused on the identification of the particles themselves rather than the accessories for the microscope.  At the request of the Gelman Instrument Company, McCrone Associates began to produce two, 50- specimen microscope slide particle reference sets (Figures 5-6).  The two sets covered a broad range of specimen types and were intended to aid industrial light microscopists with the identification of contaminants.  A booklet describing each specimen and several important identifying characteristics also accompanied each reference set.  Inside the manual was a note that told the reader how to obtain additional optical data using two pieces of polarizing film on each side of the sample particle.  The guide went onto define such optical properties as extinction, birefringence, and interference colors (Figure 7).  In the October 1967 issue of The Microscope, McCrone Associates offered, without Gelman, a specimen reference set of 48 samples that included minerals, synthetics, polymers, vegetable, and animal fibers (Figure 8).  This fiber reference set also contained detailed descriptions of each fiber as a means in which to identify them.  The only thing missing from the above-mentioned guides were the corresponding photomicrographs for each sample.  Many of these specimens would be pictured and described in greater detail in what we now call The Particle Atlas, a work that began around 1964 (6).

During the middle 1960’s McCrone and his Associates were busy developing methods and techniques for particle identification that would soon be published, and become world-class references, to be sold to the microscopy community.  In July of 1967 McCrone placed four, color photomicrographs of various specimens on the cover of The Microscope (7) (Figure 9).  On the inside of the cover were four corresponding numbers to each of the micrographs, along with a key to their identification.  Beneath the key was an announcement that the photomicrographs were taken from The Particle Atlas, to be published in September of that year (Figure 10).  In October of 1967 a similar advertisement in The Microscope asked readers if they could correctly identify the particles shown in the photomicrograph accompanying the ad (8) (Figures 11-12). Several pages after this first advertisement was another ad asking the reader if they were successful in identifying what turned out to be ground corn particles.  Whether or not the reader was correct in their identification the ad stressed the importance of such an Atlas and offered it to readers at a pre-publication price of $95.00.

These were the first advertisements for The Particle Atlas.  The first edition of The Atlas included nearly 200 color photomicrographs of industrial particles, classified and characterized, along with techniques for particle collection and manipulation (Figure 13).  The Particle Atlas would eventually become one of McCrone’s most successful selling products, while at the same time establishing McCrone Associate’s as the leaders in not only particle identification, but also pioneers in particle handling and isolation techniques.

The Particle Atlas had been so successful, selling out the first print run of 5,000 copies within a year, a supplement was developed to “hold” people over until the next edition of The Atlas could be published. The supplement was called The Particle Analyst and it first appeared as an ad in 1969 on the back cover of The Microscope(9) (Figure 14).  The ad outlined 18 of the 24 chapters that were contained within the volume along with many new particles that had been described, each accompanied by a new color photomicrograph (10).  The Particle Analyst began as a journal that was only available to people who had purchased The Particle Atlas (11).  These publications were only distributed in 1968, and later made available in a compiled 3-ring binder format in 1969.

Finally in 1972 an advertisement appeared in the fourth quarter of The Microscope announcing the Second Edition of The Particle Atlas (12) (Figure 15).  The ad contained information on what was now a four volume set and included; Vol. 1 Principles, Techniques, Instrumentation, Vol. 2 Light Microscopy Atlas, Vol. 3 Electron Micrograph Atlas, and Vol. 4 Analysts Handbook of tables and charts.

The new Atlas was five times larger than the original in terms of the micrographs it contained and the number of characterized particles. In the following year a photomicrograph of fly ash from the new Atlas appeared on the cover of The Microscope (13) (Figures 16-17). On the inside cover of the journal was a description of the micrograph, along with a schedule for when each volume of the Atlas would be released. The Second Edition of The Particle Atlas was even more popular than the first making it again one of McCrone’s best selling products.

The Vendor Era

Between 1968 and 1972, McCrone continued to see the growing need for one-of-a-kind particle handling tools and descriptions of the techniques required for particle isolation.  By this time McCrone and his Associates had compiled over a decade’s worth of techniques, accessories, and instruments that were now being used by industrial light microscopists. In the first quarter of 1968 McCrone took out an advertisement in The Microscope, seeking a person to develop and organize an Instruments Division based in England (14) (Figure 18).  The ad stated this to be an opportunity to build up a large business citing an additional 15 products ready for market (Figure 3).  This marked the first evidence that the instrument sales portion of McCrone Associates was now going to be a separate division, and warranted a person dedicated to its development and expansion.

Over the next several years the continued accumulation of information regarding microscopy instruments and techniques would be compiled, photographed, and described in one convenient book.  In 1973 the first advertisement describing the availability of a new book on techniques and accessories was published in The Microscope (15) (Figure 19).  The book was titled Techniques, Instruments, and Accessories for Microanalysts—A User’s Manual. This marked the first formal product catalog of the McCrone Instruments Division.

John Delly of McCrone Associates compiled the User’s Manual between 1971 and 1973.  The products for The Manual were initially selected from Delly’s microscopy bench that he used in his everyday work.  The Manual was more than just a product catalog; it was also a textbook containing a multitude of difficult to find items and facts, designed to aid the microscopist in the proper use of microscopy tools and instruments.  In the introduction the editors stress the four basic elements considered essential to being a successful microscopist: preparation of the sample for examination; choosing a microscope and accessories; application of your skill in the technique chosen; and, observation and interpretation (15).  These four elements were touched on throughout many of the 219 products pictured.  The Manual contained 179 pages of microscopy tools and accessories pictured and described in great detail.  It was hardbound in a green cloth cover, indicating that it was something of permanence, with a price tag of $18 (Figure 20).

In 1976 McCrone started to give away the User’s Manual to subscribers of his favorite journal, The Microscope.  That year, The Journal contained an ad that told reader The User’s Manual was “their guide to the techniques, instruments, accessories and materials, we find most useful in our (McCrone Associates) laboratories-many of which we innovated and now market” (17).  The ad went on to say that “this is another step in our campaign to become the single source of a multitude of difficult-to-find items and facts for the microscopist.”Perhaps in an effort to justify the cost of The Manual ($66 in 2003 dollars) a half page ad in The Microscope was taken out in the third quarter of 1974 (16).  The ad described the User’s manual as a guide to techniques, instruments, accessories and materials that were found in the labs of McCrone Associates.  In a sense McCrone Associates were giving the practicing microscopist an opportunity to purchase a piece of their intellectual property for the modest price of $ 18!  Aside from the products the Manual also contained a listing of polarized light microscopy courses taught through the McCrone Research Institute, an announcement regarding the annual Inter/Micro meeting, and a laboratory profile on McCrone Associates.

With the publication of the User’s Manual McCrone really began to push the Instruments Division of McCrone Associates as not only the microscopists one-stop-shop, but also a place where people could learn the techniques required for the instruments they purchased.  At this point the industrial light microscopists start to look to McCrone as a source for information, supplies, and techniques in order to make them a better microscopist.  One can say that an informal partnership had developed with the microscopy community and McCrone Associates.

The Microscope Era

Throughout the years leading up to and including The User’s manual era the McCrone Instruments Division was housed in John Delly’s home basement.  By the time McCrone began giving away The User’s Manual the McCrone Instruments Division had out grown Delly’s basement, and was moved to 2805 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  From this point forward the Instruments Division was re-named McCrone Accessories and Components (MAC).

Figure 21.
Figure 21.

It was during this period in the late 1970’s that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started to establish regulations regarding the removal of asbestos-containing materials from government buildings and schools.  The only method approved by the EPA for identifying asbestos was the use of polarized light microscopy (19).  In a summary of Inter/Micro-78, an annual meeting started by McCrone in 1948, a panel discussion took place addressing the control regulations for asbestos (20).  On the panel was Jim Ferguson of NIOSH, Robert Carlton of the EPA, Willard Dixon of OSHA, Alan Rappaport of the U.S. Department of Labor, Earl Hoover of Crushed Stone Association, and Ian Stewart and Walter McCrone of McCrone Associates and McCrone Research Institute, respectively.  This close association that MAC had with the EPA and others enabled them to market their microscopes more effectively than the competition.  It was also during the Inter/Micro-78 meeting that MAC exhibited for the first time.  Many of the products displayed at the meeting were Olympus microscopes configured for asbestos identification and asbestos fiber counting.By 1976 McCrone had firmly established the McCrone Instruments Division as one of the premier sources for industrial microscopy accessories and supplies.  The only thing missing from the product line was the microscopes themselves.  In the later part of 1977 MAC ran their first advertisement in The Microscope, announcing available for the first time an Olympus microscope package (18) (Figure 21). The package was configured for asbestos fiber counting and contained a 10X brightfield and a 40X phase objective, phase annulus, Porton grid graticule, stage micrometer, slides, coverslips, air filter cassettes, and a copy of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) publication Occupational Exposure to Asbestos.  This package, The MACPAC 1, was called “The OSHA Counter” and appeared with two other MACPACs; MACPAC 2-“The Identifyer”, which included a DSO, a set of Cargille refractive index liquids for asbestos identification, slides and coverslips, asbestos mine dust standards, and dispersion staining charts and curves; and the MACPAC3-“The Asher”, which was a low-temperature plasma-asher.

In May of that year MAC also released the first catalog since the publication of The User’s Manual.  Many of the products listed in the new catalog were referenced to the same catalog numbers and page numbers found in the original User’s Manual. The new catalog also carried some of the new MACPAC’s, which were mostly polarized light microscope packages.  The MACPAC’s contained both Olympus and Nikon polarized light microscopes, and ranged from the simple monocular Olympus POS to the more sophisticated Olympus BHP, Nikon L-Ke, and Olympus Vanox models, some complete with 35mm or Polaroid photomicrography units.  During the next year MAC would discontinue carrying Nikon products and eventually became Olympus’ national polarized light microscope dealer.

In 1979 McCrone Associates in England who had manufactured many of McCrone’s first microscope accessories, was re-named McCrone Research Associates (MRA), and also exhibited for the first time.  During Inter/Micro-79, which was held in England that year, MRA displayed sophisticated instrumentation for reflected and transmitted light microscopy, x-ray diffraction, along with The Microscope, and The Particle Atlas (21).

Throughout the next decade MAC would expand their product line to include electron microscopy supplies from Ladd Research Industries, Olympus comparison microscopes, Olympus stereomicroscopes, asbestos identification reference sets, additional tools for the industrial microscopist, and scores of reference books.  The Instruments Division of McCrone Associates continues to produce product catalogs at a rate of approximately one every two years.  None of the catalogs has ever approached the magnitude of the original User’s Manual, mainly because of rising printing costs.  The company changed its name again in 1999 to McCrone Microscopes & Accessories (MMA) in an effort to better reflect the company’s product offerings.

Conclusion

The Instruments Division of McCrone Associates was nurtured over many years through publications in The Microscope, advertising, and eventually a product catalog.  Walter McCrone looked at “selling” microscopy as a way to solve industrial microscopy problems, and if he made some money along the way, that was nice too (22).  With the proliferation of the World Wide Web the microscopy instrument suppliers can provide to microscopist, at considerably less cost than printing, the type of information found in The User’s Manual.  So devoting an entire page to something like a common dissecting needle won’t be considered that unusual but rather expected.

Bibliography

  1. McCrone, W. C.: Some Simple Chemical Experiments with the Microscope, The Microscope Vol. 13, No.8, 1962.
  2. The Microscope and Crystal Front, Vol. 13, No. 10, 1963.
  3. McCrone, W.C.: Dispersion Staining. Part 1, The Microscope and Crystal Front, Vol. 13, No. 11, 1963.
  4. The Microscope, Vol. 15, Third Quarter, 1967.
  5. McCrone, W.C., Draftz, R.G., Delly, and J.G.: The Particle Atlas, Ann Arbor Science Publishers, Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1967.
  6. The Microscope, Vol. 15, Fourth Quarter, 1967.
  7. The Microscope, Vol. 16, First Quarter, 1968.
  8. The Microscope, Vol. 17, First Quarter, 1969.
  9. McCrone, W.C., Draftz, R.G., Delly, and J.G.: The Particle Analyst, Ann Arbor Science Publishers, Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1968.
  10. John Delly, Personal Communication.
  11. The Microscope, Vol. 20, Fourth Quarter, 1972.
  12. The Microscope, Vol. 21, First Quarter, 1973
  13. The Microscope, Vol. 21, Fourth Quarter, 1973.
  14. McCrone, W.C., Johnson, R.I., Eds. Techniques, Instruments and Accessories for Microanalysts—A User’s Manual, First Edition, 1974.
  15. The Microscope, Vol. 22, Third Quarter, 1974.
  16. The Microscope, Vol. 24, First Quarter, 1976.
  17. The Microscope, Vol. 25, Fourth Quarter, 1977.
  18. EPA Document
  19. The Microscope, Vol. 26, Fourth Quarter, 1978
  20. The Microscope, Vol. 27, Fourth Quarter, 1979.
  21. The Microscope, Vol.27, First Quarter Editorial, 1979.

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