Vannevar Bush's Profile Tracer

This experimental instrument for land surveying consists of a mechanism in a wooden box that is suspended between two wooden wheels with rubber tires. The wheels are aligned as in a bicycle, with the box in between. There is a roll of paper mounted on top of the box. If one runs the wheels over a surface, the combined action of a servo-mechanism and an integrator produce a profile of the land traversed which is plotted on the paper. The engineer Vannevar Bush received a patent for this instrument in 1912, and it was the subject of the master's degree dissertation he wrote at Tufts University the next year. Servo-mechanisms, integrators, and the graphical display of results played a major role in several computing instruments Bush later designed. He also is remembered for ideas about information retrieval that inspired later thinkers to develop what is now called hypertext.
Currently not on view
Object Name
drawing instrument
Date made
Bush, Vannevar
Physical Description
metal (frame, mechanism material)
rubber (wheels material)
wood (mechanism material)
paper (mechanism material)
glass (mechanism material)
overall: 32 cm x 156 cm x 55 cm; 12 5/8 in x 61 7/16 in x 21 5/8 in
Place Made
United States: Massachusetts
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Measuring & Mapping
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 Vannevar Bush

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