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 The parallel rule was superseded for most uses by the T-square in the 19th century, but navigators continue to use parallel rules in conjunction with gridded charts.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.
- The lower blade of this 24" brass hinged parallel rule is marked: KELVIN – WHITE CO. BOSTON – NEW YORK. The instrument has one rectangular wooden handle and one rectangular black plastic handle. Both handles are attached by crude welding. They may have been added by the previous owner, since Kelvin & White catalog advertisements show round knobs in 1931 and no handles in 1940. The side and top edges of the rule are divided as a rectangular protractor, numbered by tens from 180 to 10 and from 360 to 180. Unlike MA*309661, MA*309662, and MA*309663, the bottom edge is not divided for a protractor or nautical compass points.
- Australian shipbuilder Wilfrid O. White (1878–1955) studied in Glasgow, Scotland, with William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824–1907), before settling in Boston in 1902. White served as an agent for the Glasgow instrument workshop in which Kelvin held an interest until 1919, when White established the American firm of Kelvin & Wilfrid O. White. The company was renamed Wilfrid O. White & Sons, Inc., in 1950. Throughout its existence the firm charged $28.00 for the 24" brass version of "Captain Field's improved parallel rule," model number 554. The markings in this example are like those shown in the 1940 catalog.
- References: Kelvin & Wilfrid O. White Company, 1931 Catalogue of . . . Navigational Instruments and Equipment (Boston, 1931), 37; Kelvin & Wilfrid O. White Company, Catalog No. 40–Y (Boston, 1940), 35; Peggy A. Kidwell, "American Parallel Rules: Invention on the Fringes of Industry," Rittenhouse 10, no. 39 (1996): 90–96; Deborah J. Warner, "Browse by Maker: Kelvin & Wilfrid O. White," National Museum of American History Physical Sciences Collection: Navigation , http://amhistory.si.edu/navigation/maker.cfm?makerid=43; T. N. Clarke, A. D. Morrison-Low, and A. D. Simpson, Brass & Glass: Scientific Instrument Making Workshops in Scotland (Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland, 1989), 252–275.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- Kelvin & Wilfrid O. White
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- catalog number
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- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center