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 The parallel rule was superseded for most uses by the T-square in the 19th century, but navigators continue to use parallel rules in conjunction with gridded charts.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 instrument has a wooden handle attached by a large brass thumbscrew to a brass protractor that is divided to single degrees and numbered by tens in both directions from 10 to 170. The protractor is screwed to a rectangular brass piece that slides in a groove in a rectangular wooden guide-piece. The guide-piece has brass clamps and thumbscrews for affixing the instrument on a table. The protractor is also attached by a split nut to a metal screw shaft that runs the width of the instrument. A thumb rest and gear on the left clamp rotates the screw shaft.
- A T-square is a technical drawing instrument used by draftsmen primarily as a guide for drawing horizontal lines on a drafting table. In this instrument, the two blades of the T-square are not fixed in a perpendicular position but rather can be rotated to any angle on the protractor. The large thumbscrew can then be used as a handle to move the blades along the screw shaft, allowing the user to draw parallel lines.
- Eugene James Towne (1847–after 1900) of North Dana, Mass., received a patent for this device in 1877. He submitted this example with his application as a prototype for the instrument, and the U.S. Patent Office marked it on the bottom: 187330 (/) L.1201.1228. Towne, a cabinetmaker, and J. W. Goodman, who made pianos, billiard table legs, and other wooden items in North Dana, apparently intended to manufacture the device together. However, the instrument likely was not widely adopted.
- References: Eugene J. Towne, "Improvement in Parallel Rulers" (U.S. Patent 187,330 issued February 13, 1877); Edwin Eugene Towne, ed., The Descendants of William Towne (Newtonville, Mass., 1901), 284; The Worcester County Directory for 1878–79 (Boston: Briggs & Co., 1878), 41; 1870 and 1900 U.S. Census records.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- Towne, Eugene J.
- ID Number
- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center