Mechanical Specialties Linear Planimeter

This German silver linear planimeter is T-shaped. The base of the T has a measuring scale, which no longer can be read due to rust, and a metal wheel that slides up and down the scale when the planimeter is moved. The top of the T has a tracing point at one end. The other end fits into a metal groove screwed inside a rectangular mahogany case. Two clips fastened inside the case are for holding the paper marked with a steam engine indicator diagram, but the paper received with this object is held in place by four metal thumbtacks.
The top of the case has a red and white inventory sticker marked: 1113 (/) 204-G-2. The sticker was presumably attached at Rutgers University, the donor of the object. A large white label glued inside the lid of the case is marked: THE • NEW • PLANIMETER (/) THE MECHANICAL SPECIALTIES MFG. CO. (/) 128 PURCHASE STREET, BOSTON, MASS. This label also has "directions for use." The inside bottom of the case is lined with blue paper. The paper held by thumbtacks contains a square drawn with pencil and marked: Begin here (/) Area (/) 4 sq. in. Above a circle drawn to the right of the square is marked: Circle is (/) 1 in. inside diam. (/) Area = Π / 4 = .785 sq. in. (/) Begin (/) here.
The Mechanical Specialties Manufacturing Company was known for its "Arc" steam engine indicator, which it started to sell in 1888. The firm was apparently short-lived. By 1900, the Boston Journal of Commerce and Textile Industries was published from its address, and by 1918, the Boston Office Furniture Exchange was located at its address. Rolla Clinton Carpenter, associate professor of experimental engineering at Cornell, did describe the instrument in an 1893 textbook.
References: The Mechanical Specialties Manufacturing Company, "A Treatise on the Arc Indicator," American Engineer 19, no. 10 (March 5, 1890): 107, and "Improvements in the Arc Indicator," American Engineer 20, no. 21 (November 22, 1890): 221–222; Rolla C. Carpenter, Experimental Engineering, 2nd ed. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1893), 36–37; Catalogue of Exhibitors in the United States Sections of the International Universal Exposition,, vol. 2 (Paris, 1900), 446; "Purchase St," Boston Register and Business Directory no. 83 (1918): 976.
Currently not on view
date made
Mechanical Specialties Manufacturing Company
place made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
wood (overall material)
paper (overall material)
case: 3.2 cm x 30.5 cm x 16 cm; 1 1/4 in x 12 in x 6 5/16 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Rutgers University
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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