First Psychology Laboratory in the British Empire

University College, TorontoOn this day in 1890, the first experimental psychology laboratory in the British Empire opened, at the University of Toronto in Canada. It was the brainchild of James Mark Baldwin, who had been hired just a few months earlier in the face of immense public opposition by those who believed the school should hire Canadians only. The controversy was settled when the Premier of Ontario agreed to hire a Canadian at the same time, James Gibson Hume (see Green, 2004).

The opening of the laboratory was a major success for Baldwin but, unfortunately, the building in which it was housed, University College, burned almost to the ground on February 14 of the same year. Baldwin took advantage of the disaster, however, arranging for a larger laboratory to be included in the rebuilt structure.

Baldwin remained at Toronto until 1893, conducting some of the most innovative developmental research of his era. His stage-wise theory of mental development was later a major influence on the better-known work of Jean Piaget. Baldwin then moved to take up a professorship at his alma mater, Princeton. In 1903, he would leave Princeton, after a dispute with then-Princeton president Woodrow Wilson, for a position with higher pay and less teaching at Johns Hopkins University. In 1908 Baldwin would hire John B. Watson, but just months later was forced out of his position by scandal, leaving Watson in charge of the department and with editorial control of his journals, including Psychological Review. Just four years after, Watson would use the journal to publish the article that launched the behaviorist revolution, “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It.”

Also, happy birthday to William James (1842) and Edward Bradford Titchener (1867)!

Tip o’ the hat to Warren Street’s “Today in the History of Psychology” website for alerting me to these events.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.