Fteley-Stearns Water Current Meter

Alphonse Fteley was a French engineer who came to the United States in 1865. In 1873 he took charge of the Sudbury River Waterworks that would bring potable water from the Sudbury River to customers in Boston. To gauge the water flow in the Sudbury River, he borrowed a Baumgarten current meter from General Theodore G. Ellis. Then, working with Buff & Berger, a mathematical instrument firm in Boston, Fteley and his assistant, Frederick P. Stearns, devised a meter with a larger rotor, eight blades with a longer pitch, and a different mechanism for the counting wheels.
Buff & Berger was offering Fteley-Stearns direct-reading current meters by the early 1880s. Following the dissolution of that firm in 1898, instruments of this sort could be had from Buff & Buff and from C. L. Berger & Sons. A Fteley-Stearns meter with ordinary registering apparatus cost $160 in 1899. The same, with an electric register, cost $220.
This example is marked “C. L. Berger & Sons / Boston, U.S.A. / 5969.” The additional “U.S.G.S. / 781 / HYDRO” mark indicates that it was used by the Hydrologic Department of the U.S. Geological Survey. Arthur Frazier donated it to the Smithsonian in 1970.
Ref: Alphonse Fteley and Frederick P. Stearns, “Description of some Experiments on the Flow of Water, made during the Construction of Works for Conveying the Water of Sudbury River to Boston,” Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers 12 (1883): 1-118.
Frederick P. Stearns, “On the Current Meter, Together with a Reason Why the Maximum Velocity of the Water Flowing in Open Channels is Below the Surface,” Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers 12 (1883): 301-388.
C. L. Berger & Sons, Hand-Book and Illustrated Catalogue of the Engineers’ and Surveyors’ Instruments (Boston, 1899), pp. 196-199.
“Alphonse Fteley,” Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies 31 (1903): 213-215.
Arthur H. Frazier, Water Current Meters in the Smithsonian Collections of the National Museum of History and Technology (Washington, D.C., 1974), pp. 59-60.
Currently not on view
Object Name
water current meter
date made
after 1898
C. L. Berger and Sons
overall: 9 13/32 in x 5 in x 5 1/4 in; 23.876 cm x 12.7 cm x 13.335 cm
place made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Measuring & Mapping
Water Currents
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Water Currents
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Arthur Frazier

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