American Amsler Polar Planimeter

This tarnished nickel-plated instrument forms a U and is hinged around a brass measuring wheel and vernier. A cylindrical weight fits over a peg at the end of the pole arm. The plating has worn away from the handle for the tracer point. The tracer arm is stamped with a serial number: 4346. An oblong wooden case covered with black leather is lined with purple velvet. The top of the case is marked: MANUFACTURED BY (/) American Steam Gauge & Valve Mfg. Co. (/) BOSTON, MASS. A brass plate screwed to the top of the case has an inventory number for the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, the donor of this object: 4P7. A torn red and white sticker on the bottom of the case originally read: UNIVERSITY OF (/) CINCINNATI (/) 33895. Compare to 1981.0301.02 and 1981.0301.03; the serial number suggests this object is the oldest of the three instruments.
The American Steam Gauge Company was founded in Boston in 1851, incorporated in 1854, and re-incorporated around 1902 with the name American Steam Gauge & Valve Manufacturing Company. According to the company catalog, James W. See, an Ohio engineer, designed the first Amsler-style planimeter in the United States. By 1879 American Steam Gauge began manufacturing it as the American Amsler's Polar Planimeter. In 1896 it sold with the case for $15.00. In 1923, American Steam Gauge, the Hohmann-Nelson Company, and the American division of the Schäffer & Budenberg Manufacturing Company merged to form American Schaeffer & Budenberg Corporation.
References: "People: American Steam Gauge Company," Waywiser, Harvard University Department of the History of Science,; American Steam Gauge Company, catalog (Boston, 1896), 130–135; Thomas Pray, Jr., Twenty Years with the Indicator: Being a Practical Text-book for the Engineer or the Student (Boston: American Steam Gauge & Valve Mfg. Co., 1909), 286.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
American Steam Gauge & Valve Mfg. Co.
Physical Description
nickel (overall material)
brass (overall material)
wood (overall material)
leather (overall material)
cloth (overall material)
case: 3.5 cm x 17 cm x 5.5 cm; 1 3/8 in x 6 11/16 in x 2 5/32 in
place made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Science & Mathematics
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of University of Cincinnati Department of Mechanical Engineering
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