Parallel rules help draftsmen, surveyors, cartographers, architects, and navigators draw accurate parallel lines. The instrument comes in two main forms: two rectangular straight edges connected by brass or silver hinges, or a single frame surrounding a roller. The first type was known in Europe by 1600, while Englishman A. George Eckhardt is credited with inventing the second in 1771. The parallel rule was superseded for most uses by the T-square in the 19th century, but navigators continue to use parallel rules in conjunction with gridded charts.
The mathematics collections contain about twenty parallel rules and combination instruments, dating from the late 18th century to the late 20th century and ranging in length from 6 to 24 inches. The objects are made from ebony and other woods, brass, German silver, and plastic. They were manufactured in the United States, England, Italy, and Taiwan. They were used for military surveying, in navigation, in business, in art and technical drawing, and for placing handles on caskets. Several of the objects in this group illustrate innovations added to the basic instrument.
The digitization of this group of artifacts was made possible through the generous support of Edward and Diane Straker.
"Parallel Rules - Overview" showing 1 items.
- This brass semicircular protractor is divided by single degrees and marked by tens from 10° to 90° to 10°. It is attached with metal screws to a set of brass parallel rules. Brass S-shaped hinges connect the rules to each other. The bottom left screw on the parallel rules does not attach to the bottom piece. A rectangular brass arm is screwed to the center of the protractor. A thin brass piece screwed to the arm is marked with a small arrow for pointing to the angle markings. The protractor is stored in a wooden case, which also contains a pair of metal dividers (5-1/4" long).
- The base of the protractor is signed: L. Dod, Newark. Lebbeus Dod (1739–1816) manufactured mathematical instruments in New Jersey and is credited with inventing the parallel rule protractor. He served as a captain of artillery during the Revolutionary War and made muskets. His three sons, Stephen (1770–1855), Abner (1772–1847), and Daniel (1778–1823), were also noted instrument and clock makers. The family was most associated with Mendham, N.J. (where a historic marker on N.J. Route 24 indicates Dod's house), but Dod is known to have also lived at various times in Newark.
- ID number MA*310890 is a similar protractor and parallel rule. Compare also to a Dod instrument owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/5535.
- References: Bethuel Lewis Dodd and John Robertson Burnet, "Biographical Sketch of Lebbeus Dod," in Genealogies of the Male Descendants of Daniel Dod . . . 1646–1863 (Newark, N.J., 1864), 144–147; Alexander Farnham, "More Information About New Jersey Toolmakers," The Tool Shed, no. 120 (February 2002), http://www.craftsofnj.org/Newjerseytools/Alex%20Farnham%20more%20Jeraey%20Tools/Alex%20Farnham.htm; Deborah J. Warner, “Surveyor's Compass,” National Museum of American History Physical Sciences Collection: Surveying and Geodesy, http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/surveying/object.cfm?recordnumber=747113; Peggy A. Kidwell, "American Parallel Rules: Invention on the Fringes of Industry," Rittenhouse 10, no. 39 (1996): 90–96.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- late 1700s
- Dod, Lebbeus
- ID Number
- accession number
- catalog number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center