Lambert Water Meter

This is a frost-proof disc water meter with serial number 1,193,509 that fit a ⅝” pipe, and that was made by the Thomson Meter Company in Brooklyn, New York, probably in the 1920s.
John Thomson, a prolific Scottish-born inventor raised in the United States, was one of the first Americans to realize the advantages of a disc water meter. In the mid-1880s, Thomson met Frank Lambert, a French machinist in Brooklyn who had designed a typewriter with the letters arranged on a nutating disc. Working together, the two men designed a water meter featuring a nutating disk. The Water-Waste Prevention Company was then formed, and reorganized as the Thomson Meter Company in 1891. With Lambert as its president, Thomson Meter introduced the Lambert in 1898, claiming that the new model “embodied all the improvements which the tests of time and long service have proved to be requisite in a perfect meter.” Despite this early claim, Lambert would go on to suggest dozens of improvements, many of them designed to make the meter frost proof, over the course of the next several decades. This particular meter is equipped with the “Yielding Fastening for Joints” for which Lambert received a patent (#1,377,986I in 1921. The Neptune Meter Company acquired Thomson Meter in 1925 and was still offering Lambert meters in the late 1930s.
Ref: Thomson Meter Co., (1923).
Currently not on view
date made
Thomson Meter Company
place made
United States: New York, Brooklyn
Physical Description
bronze (overall material)
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
A.A. Hirsch
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Water Meters
Natural Resources
Data Source
National Museum of American History


The nutating disc principle was adapted for water metering from a hydraulic pump patented in 1821 by Dankeyne. ( The Oscillating piston meter has a similar history (source not yet verified) as a pump or engine. The driving force for innovation in the 19th century, the NASA of its day, was the steam engine with many innovations in that industry seeding innovation in other areas. The nutating disc and oscillating piston meters are the limit geometric forms of the same generic technology as distinct from other technologies like sliding vane, reciprocating piston etc. This was evidently recognised by Lewis H. Nash, acclaimed as the father of the modern water meter (he has several patents on both forms (and indeed is responsible for the "mature" versions of both i.e. the meters are subsequently unchanged in any significant way to this day) who introduced a variation of the nutating disc with a slight cone shape which was then manufactured by the Leeds Meter company in the UK (later part of Kent Meters). These two types are commonly and inaccurately described as "Positive Displacement meters". They are in fact only semi-positive being positive for around 70-80% of the measurement cycle and then, over the remaining portions open flow paths are created which allow unregistered flow through the meter below the starting flow and which result in a significant "slip flow" within the operating range. They are also more commonly referred to in the water industry as "Volumetric meters". The reference here is to a patent ( which is for an improved register, but not the nutating disc meter itself. It may have been assumed that Lewis Nash is the originator of the nutating disc water meter though it may just be his patents in the 1880s that defined the modern "mature" form. Interesting to note the use of the term "Piston" in Lambert's patent. This term is often used as a generic for any positive displacement meter (which this is not truly an example) just as "Rotary" (vane) is a 19th century generic for what we today call inferential meters... and as such the generic terms also tend to refer to the intended market. However, it was also common to use terms descriptive of the mechanism such as the Fipps "Bi-Rotor" meter of 1878. There seems to have been less rigour in describing meters in the 19th century. But this use of the term "Piston" as a generic for positive displacement is perhaps why Lewis Nash is accredited with inventing the "Rotary Piston" meter, a term which in the UK and Europe is used for what is called in the US the oscillating piston meter. It in fact refers to Lewis Nash's Crown Meter which was perhaps the first mechanically simple positive displacement meter..... but with such complex component geometry as to be as expensive as the more mechanically complex positive dispalcement meters.
I have Lambert meter no. 1,063,883 and have had the exterior restored. Does anyone have any idea what year this was manufactured? It was in my home when I bought it back in the early 1970s and trust me, it was old at that time.

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