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At Rensselaer—From the Archives


The solid brick structure framed with heavy timber that sits on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Union Street in Troy is testament to the lasting legacy of the late Gurley brothers, whose name the building still bears in large white letters.

Like many Rensselaer alumni, William and Lewis Gurley were pioneers of their day, perfecting technical instruments for scientific and engineering use.

William Gurley, an 1839 graduate who later became an Institute trustee, started a company that designed and manufactured scientific and engineering equipment. The company became W. & L. E. Gurley of Troy when he and his brother, Lewis, who graduated from Rensselaer in 1845, formed a partnership in 1852.

When the Civil War was declared in 1861, the company provided a steady stream of war materials, such as fuse plugs, gun sights, and shell caps. The Gurley plant was burned to the ground just one year later, in 1862, when the Great Troy Fire destroyed most of the city. A new building, the one used today, was constructed on the site in 1867.

The Lighting Research Center, which recently moved its operations to the Gurley Building, occupies the space where the original production lines once pumped out surveying equipment. Gurley stopped producing surveying instruments in 1980, and the upper three floors remained empty for nearly 20 years.

Many of the early pieces made in the Gurley factory are considered to be classic examples of American surveying instruments and have sold for thousands of dollars. In 1876, the company developed the "Light Mountain Transit," the first of its kind designed for use in mountainous terrain. Use of aluminum in making another Gurley transit made the company the first in America to manufacture the metal on a commercial basis.

Aluminum's light weight and durability in even the most extreme climate quickly made the company well-known within the armed forces. The Navy, in particular, used Gurley instruments for major engineering projects and expeditions, including the historic discovery of the North Pole in 1909 by Admiral Robert Peary.

In 1942, during World War II, the Army and Navy awarded Gurley the ''E'' Production Award, the military services' highest honor given for achievement in the production of war equipment.

The company, now Gurley Precision Instruments (located on the first floor of the Gurley Building), remains a prominent worldwide provider and developer of encoders, measuring devices used in MRI, X-ray and ultrasound images, as well as equipment used in the aviation and defense industries.


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