Historical Collections division includes artifacts documenting the material culture of medicine, with an emphasis on military medicine and federal government medicine. The collection contains approximately 15,000 objects ranging in size from a suture needle to a two-ton Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) magnet. The earliest objects date from circa 1660 (Robert Hooke Microscope) to medical instruments and equipment presently in use. The collection continues to serve as a Department of Defense resource for the study of how technology influences the practice of medicine.
The first mention of Historical Collections occurs in an 1864 letter requisitioning an exhibit case for Union Army medical equipment. After the Civil War, medical instruments were purchased from American manufacturers and evaluated for use by the U.S. Army. Following the turn of the century, the number of instruments acquired declined as the collection emphasis focused on historical objects. After World War I, captured medical equipment was acquired, resulting in materials more representative of the medical technology of the enemy forces during the 20th century wars. Since medical technology during the last half of the twentieth century has developed rapidly, Historical Collections continues to grow in order to preserve artifacts documenting important trends in the evolution of medical technology.