ABSTRACT:

This essay concerns Helmholtz's relationships with American physics students and colleagues, and with his general image in Gilded Age America. His person, his teaching style, his views on the nature and function of science and its role within culture at large, and his institutional facilities played an important part in shaping the views of young American scientists and the institutional structures that they developed. The essay samples Helmholtz's reputation among American men of science and letters, and surveys the American physics students and postdocs who studied with him in Berlin or worked in or simply visited him and his institute there. It points to the leadership roles that several of these men played in their own academic institutions and their new emerging discipline. It provides an analysis of Helmholtz as a teacher and mentor of American physics students, and considers the special case of Henry Rowland's relationship with Helmholtz and his Berlin institute. Finally, it suggests that Helmholtz played a role, as inspirer, in the emergence of four key institutions of American physics——The physical review, The astrophysical journal, the American Physical Society, and the National Bureau of Standards. American physics students and postdocs in the Gilded Age idolized and lionized Helmholtz as a hero of pure science and research, as the embodiment of what it meant to be a physicist. As such, he helped shape the professional ideals and reality of the American physics elite that emerged during the late-19th century.

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