Plotting Scale Signed Benjamin Rittenhouse

On one side this brass rule has a 5-1/2" plotting scale, divided to 1/2" and numbered by ones from 4 to 1, with a diagonal scale at the right end. Below the plotting scale is a line of chords and a 6" scale divided to 1/8" and numbered by ones from 1 to 6. This side is marked: Made by Benjamin Rittenhouse. The other side has architect's scales dividing the inch into 45, 40, 35, 30, 25, 20, and 15 parts.
Benjamin Rittenhouse (1740–1825) was born in Norriton, Penn., and probably learned to make clocks and compasses from his older brother, David Rittenhouse. He served as superintendent of the gunlock factory in Philadelphia during the Revolution, returning to his house in Worcester Township after the war. His surveyor's chain, made by order of Congress in 1796, was adopted as the standard of the U.S. Land Office. He was also the most prolific compass maker working in North America in the late 18th century. He used the signature on this instrument between 1785 and 1796. Rittenhouse went bankrupt in 1801 and spent his latter years in Philadelphia.
The previous owner of this instrument, Samuel W. Pennypacker II (1910–1980), was the grandson of Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker (1846–1916), who served as governor of Pennsylvania between 1903 and 1907, and who in turn was the grandson of Mathias Pennypacker Jr. (1786–1852). Mathias served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly and helped write the state's constitution in 1837. His father, Matthias (1742–1808), may have been the original purchaser of the instrument. Matthias's grandfather, Hendrick Pannebecker (1674–1754), was a surveyor for William Penn.
References: Deborah J. Warner, "Browse by Maker: B. Rittenouse," National Museum of American History Physical Sciences Collection: Surveying and Geodesy ,; Francois Uzes, "David and Benjamin Rittenhouse," Virtual Museum of Surveying,; Bruce R. Forman, "The Worcester Workshop of Benjamin Rittenhouse," Rittenhouse 2 (1988): 82–83; "Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker,"; Samuel W. Pennypacker, Henrick Pannebecker: Surveyor of Lands for the Penns (Philadelphia, 1894); accession file.
Currently not on view
Object Name
scale rule
date made
Rittenhouse, Benjamin
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
overall: 15.2 cm x 3.6 cm x .1 cm; 5 31/32 in x 1 13/32 in x 1/32 in
place made
United States: Pennsylvania, Worcester
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Scale Rules
Science & Mathematics
Drafting, Engineering
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Scale Rules
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Media

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