The Rahmi M. Koc Museum, Istanbul
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The Rahmi M. Koç Museum, Istanbul

The past decade has witnessed the establishment, rapid growth, and gradual maturing of the Rahmi M. Koç Museum in Istanbul, Turkey's only museum of science, technology, and the history of technology. Its focus on transportation, industrial, and communications technologies is familiar to European and American visitors, but new for Turkish citizens. While the Koç Museum displays objects from all over Europe and the United States, it seeks to highlight Turkish perspectives on history of technology. A small but dedicated staff has significantly expanded and improved the exhibits over just the last two years.

Museum funding comes entirely from the Rahmi M. Koç Museum and Cultural Foundation, whose head, Rahmi Koç, chairs the Koç Group, Turkey's largest corporation. In 1928 Rahmi's father Vehbi became Turkey's representative for Ford Motor Company and Standard Oil. Over subsequent decades, Vehbi set up Turkish manufacturing arrangements with Siemens, Fiat, and General Electric. In the 1960s, Koç companies began manufacturing the Anadol, the first car completely built in Turkey; the Koç Group also produced the first locally manufactured examples of many domestic and industrial items, from light bulbs to tractors.

Describing the museum's origin, Rahmi Koç explains that since childhood he has been fascinated by Istanbul's steam locomotives and ferries as well as imported model trains and clockwork toys. Visiting England, Koç writes, he "saw how much importance they attached to heritage and to the machines and tools from the Industrial Revolution." Entering the family Ford agency and preparing to begin Turkish auto manufacture, Koç traveled [End Page 590] to Detroit to purchase equipment. "The first thing I did when I got there was to visit the Henry Ford Museum. I was so strongly influenced that I prayed that one day I would be able to set up my own museum. Henry Ford had started off his museum by displaying the cars he manufactured. . . . I had first planned to display the industrial items produced by the Koç Group, but then I decided that this would not appeal to a wide audience and gradually started collecting other items. . . ." (The quote is from an exhibit on the Koç family and the museum. Koç's memory is slightly inaccurate, as the Henry Ford Museum always included more than just automobiles.) Approximately 80 percent of the museum's artifacts have been personally collected from antique dealers, auction houses, and the like by Koç himself, who still acquires objects on a regular basis.

Figure 1. The Lengerhane building. (All photos by the authors.)
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Figure 1.

The Lengerhane building. (All photos by the authors.)

The Koç Museum is situated in an excellent location on the Golden Horn, Istanbul's historic shipbuilding and industrial area. Many polluted or ruined sites in this district are now being cleaned up. The museum buildings themselves are of great interest to industrial archaeologists. The Lengerhane (anchor casting building) has foundations dating from the Byzantine period (twelfth century) and was used by the navy as a foundry in the eighteenth century, during the Ottoman era (fig. 1). It served as a warehouse until it was damaged by fire and abandoned in the 1980s. In 1991 the foundation bought, restored, and expanded the Lengerhane; anchor parts and cannonballs found during renovation are on display.

The first version of the Koç Museum opened on the restored site in [End Page 591] 1994, and in 1996 Rahmi Koç personally received a special award from the Council of Europe's European Museum of the Year program. The Lengerhane contains model steam and internal combustion engines, some Turkish made—beautiful artifacts, the somewhat dim and crowded display notwithstanding. The second floor holds exhibits of scientific instruments and communications technology, including a nice range of orreries, astrolabes, abacuses (Japanese, Russian, and Chinese), calculating machines (German and American), telegraph equipment, gramophones (American and British), radios, typewriters, and more.

It quickly became apparent that the collection required additional space, especially for larger artifacts. Conveniently, in 1996 the foundation was able to purchase a disused site just across the street from the Lengerhane. The Hasköy Dockyard had been established in 1861 by the Ottoman Marine Company for vessel maintenance...