Kane County History: Perry Thomas -- From Inventor to Atomic Bomb Photographer

Kane County History: Perry Thomas — From Inventor to Atomic Bomb Photographer

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Elgin History Museum Curator of Collections Beth Nawara.

What does a museum do with a unique interesting donation that does not fit well with what is currently on exhibit? The artifact usually ends up on a shelf in storage, but not forgotten about by the staff.

This is what happened with the 1930s Thomas Oxinjector.

In 2018, the Elgin History Museum received a Thomas Oxinjector, a medical machine invented, manufactured and distributed by Perry Thomas at 706 McBride St., Elgin. It was meant to administer oxygen or other gases by sub-cutaneous, intra-peritoneal, or intra-venous injection. The museum accepted the Oxinjector and a booklet showing how it could be used.

According to the booklet it is a “compact and completely portable instrument. It weighs about 12 pounds and is about 12 inches high. A large medicinal gas tank was not necessary because the Oxinjector has small storage cylinders within the instrument. The small cylinders were filled from the larger medicinal gas tanks with a special loading yoke.

The hospital or physician could have oxygen therapy available at any time or any place on a moment’s notice. Seventy-five or more treatments were available when all the canisters were fully loaded.”

In 2021, the museum and Grindstone Video Productions began a project filming 90-second videos about items in the collection called Museum Moments.

The artifacts highlighted in the videos are not often on exhibit to the public. The Thomas Oxinjector was filmed in April, and W.E.G. Thomas, the son of Perry Thomas, spoke about the Oxinjector invented by his father.

Phil Broxham of Grindstone Productions asked if the museum could use of a picture of Perry Thomas in the video clip. This led to the museum receiving two photographs of Perry Thomas and a copy of a document about his work filming atomic bombs explosions.

In October 1943, Perry Thomas was a captain in the Army Air Force and was chief of photography at Dayton, OH. In 1946, Major Perry Thomas was chief of the Photographic Engineering Section that photographed atom bomb tests at Bikini Island, part of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Thomas supervised the installation of motion picture equipment and electronic controls for unmanned cameras for Operation Crossroads. He participated in the filming of Able Day on July 1, 1946, and Baker Day on July 25, 1946, from an F-13 photo plane.

Ninety-five target ships were assembled on Able Day, and the bomb was detonated 520 feet above the water and missed its target. The ships sustained little damage due to the target being missed.

On Baker Day, the bomb was detonated 90 feet under water. Radioactive sea spray caused extensive contamination. Bikini Island residents left the island.

Lt. Colonel Perry Thomas was awarded the Army Legion of Merit for notable research work as a photographic engineer, particularly in the field of high speed motion pictures.

The movies he took at Operation Crossroads were shown in Elgin and throughout the country. He believed that his motion pictures of the Able Day and Baker Day bursts made it possible to “take people out into the Pacific for two historically important days.”

To view the Oxinjector Museum Moment and other artifacts highlighted in the Museum Moments videos please visit the Elgin History Museum Youtube channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqFtxziwfNBD0i0sZEj2KNQ

About The Elgin History Museum

The Elgin History Museum is housed in an 1856 landmark building known as Old Main that was once part of the Elgin Academy campus. The Elgin Area Historical Society, which was founded in 1961, is a thriving organization that operates within the museum. The society has a board of directors with a mission that is driven to preserve and educate the community about Elgin history.

The Elgin History Museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Two floors of Elgin history exhibits pull you back in time to remember how the community developed from 1835 to today.

For more information, visit elginhistory.org.

Read The Kane County History Series!

Sign Up To KCC E-Newsletter

Edit Form