Scale Rules


In addition to the instruments discussed in this object group, rulers are found throughout the National Museum of American History collections, including in the Divisions of Medicine and Science, Work and Industry, Home and Community Life, Culture and the Arts, and Armed Forces History. The objects include toys, promotional items, work tools, and fine items produced by craftsmen. Catalogs from manufacturers and distributors are part of the trade literature collections of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Additionally, these museum databases include various types of scale rules among their collections:

Since there is little consensus on the names for these objects and great diversity in this category of drawing and measuring instruments, one should try a variety of search terms and be prepared to manually weed out other types of objects, such as scales for weighing. Useful terms include "ruler," "scale," and "measure" or "measuring," as well as names for particular instruments such as "meter stick" or "plotting scale."

Further Reading

Adler Planetarium. Webster Signature Database. Provides brief information on the makers of instruments owned by a variety of museums.

Bion, Nicolas. Traité de la construction et des principaux usages des instruments de mathematique. Paris, 1709. Prominent maker's classic treatise on the construction of mathematical drawing and calculating instruments.

Cajori, Florian. "On the History of Gunter's Scale and the Slide Rule During the Seventeenth Century," University of California Publications in Mathematics 1, no. 9 (February 17, 1920): 187–209. Classic history of Gunter's rule.

Crease, Robert P. World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011. History of the evolution of measurement systems, aimed at a popular audience.

Dilke, O. A. W. Reading the Past: Mathematics and Measurement. London: British Museum Publications, 1987. Overview of the history of mathematics and metrology in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome.

Hambly, Maya. Drawing Instruments, 1580–1980. London: Sotheby's Publications, 1988. Thorough and richly illustrated treatment of a full range of instruments.

———. Drawing Instruments: Their History, Purpose and Use for Architectural Drawings.Applied Research of Cambridge Limited, 1982. Exhibit catalogue for the British Architectural Library inspired by W. F. Stanley's treatise.

Heather, J.F. Mathematical Instruments: Their Construction, Adjustment, Testing, and Use. Rev. ed. 3 vol. London: Crosby Lockwood and Co., 1870. Describes the making and use of various calculating and drawing instruments.

Kidwell, Peggy Aldrich, Amy Ackerberg-Hastings, and David Lindsay Roberts. "Metric Teaching Apparatus: Making a Lasting Impression?" In Tools of American Mathematics Teaching, 1800–2000, 181–195. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. Examines connections between the use of rulers in American mathematics classrooms and efforts to implement the metric system.

Klein, Herbert Arthur. The Science of Measurement: A Historical Survey. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974. History of units of measurement.

Kula, Witold. Measures and Men. Translated by Richard Szreter. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986. General history of metrology.

National Institute of Standards and Technology Museum. Online exhibitions on the history of measurement and timekeeping, as well as other NIST activities that help ensure the standardization and safety of American manufactured products.

Roberts, Kenneth D. Introduction to Rule Collecting. Hartford, Conn.: The Bond Press, 1982. Pioneering pamphlet on the manufacturers, materials, and technical features of interest to rule collectors.

Rowlett, Russ. How Many? A Dictionary of Units of Measurement. Information on the history of measurement systems gathered and maintained by the retired director of UNC's Center for Mathematics and Science Education.

Scott-Scott, Michael. Drawing Instruments. Shire Publications Ltd., 1986. Slender but informative discussion of a variety of drawing instruments.

Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Doodles, Drafts, and Designs: Industrial Drawings from the Smithsonian. Online exhibition showing the variety of creations prepared with rulers and drawing instruments.

Stanley, Philip E., ed. A Source Book for Rule Collectors. Mendham, N.J.: Astragal Press, 2003. Compilation of articles on various types of rules, reprints of primary sources, and other historical accounts.

———. Boxwood & Ivory: Stanley Traditional Rules, 1855–1975. Westborough, Mass.: The Stanley Publishing Company, 1984. History of the Stanley Rule Company, the construction of its rules, and types of rules produced by the firm.

Stanley, William Ford. Mathematical Drawing and Measuring Instruments. 6th ed. London: E. & F. N. Spon, 1888. Treatise on the manufacture and operation of various instruments, including the sector.

van Poelje, Otto. "Gunter Rules in Navigation," Journal of the Oughtred Society 13, no. 1 (2004): 11–22. Explanation of one application for Gunter rules.

Von Jezierski, Dieter. Slide Rules: A Journey Through Three Centuries. Translated by Rodger Shepherd. Mendham, N.J.: Astragal Press, 2000. Includes a discussion of the development of Gunter's scale.

Zupko, Ronald Edward. Revolution in Measurement: Western European Weights and Measures Since the Age of Science. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1990. Focuses on the background, development, and acceptance of the metric system.