Colorado Water Current Meter

Edwin S. Nettleton, the State Engineer of Colorado, designed this type of direct-reading meter in the early 1880s for use in “the rough torrents, filled with drift of all sorts” found in Western waters. It has a five-cup rotor mounted on a vertical axis. John Wesley Powell, the first director of U.S. Irrigation Survey, a project of the U.S. Geological Survey, explained that the Colorado meter was light, simple and compact. To use it, a gauger would mount it on a rod, hold it in the water at the desired point, and allow it to register for a certain number of seconds. He would then draw it up and read the result on the dials. Powell went on to say that the instrument “can be quickly unpacked, there are no annoying electric wires, batters or connections, and it can be carried with ease.”
The U.S. Geological Survey transferred this example to the Smithsonian in 1916. The “W. E. Scott, Maker, Denver, Col.” signature refers to the machinist, William E. Scott.
Ref: E. S. Nettleton, Report of the State Engineer to the Governor of Colorado for Years 1883 and 1884 (Denver, 1885).
J. W. Powell, “Irrigation Survey—Second Annual Report,” in Report of the Secretary of the Interior (Washington, D.C., 1890), vol. 4, part 2, pp. 6-8.
Arthur H. Frazier, Water Current Meters in the Smithsonian Collections of the National Museum of History and Technology (Washington, D.C., 1974), pp. 76-78.
Currently not on view
Object Name
water current meter
date made
late 19th century
place made
United States: Colorado, Denver
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
U.S. Geological Survey

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