Saxton Water Current Meter

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Joseph Saxton, an ingenious American who spent several years in London, designed a current meter of this sort at the behest of the British engineer, Joseph Cubitt, and tested it at the Adelaide Gallery in 1832.
This example belonged to the Proprietors of the Locks and Canals in Lowell, Mass., and was probably used by James B. Francis, the chief engineer of that organization. The “ELLIOTT & SONS London” signature indicates that it was made between 1850 and 1854. Several features—including the vane and the rotor—resemble those in the Woltman-type current meter made by Lerebours et Secretan (see PH*314769). It came to the Smithsonian in 1956.
William Davis Haskoll included an image of “Elliott’s Current Meter” in his engineering text of 1858, and described it as “a most useful instrument for ascertaining velocities, either a few inches below the surface, or at the bottom, or at any depth between.” An Elliott price list bound with this book indicates that current meters cost between £3. 3s and £5. 5s. Similar instruments were available from other London firms such as Watkins & Hill, James J. Hicks, Louis Casella, and Adie.
William Elliott began in business in London in the early 1800s, making and selling mathematical instruments. The firm became Elliott & Sons in 1850 and Elliott Brothers in 1854. It was absorbed into what became BAE Systems in 1988. Its archives are now in the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.
Ref: “Description of the Current-Meter as Recently Improved by Mr. Saxton,” The Magazine of Popular Science and Journal of the Useful Arts 1 (1836): 108-112.
W. Davis Haskoll, The Practice of Engineering Field Work (London, 1858), pp. 261-262.
Elliott Brothers, General Illustrated Catalogue (London, [1867]), p. 9.
Arthur H. Frazier, Water Current Meters in the Smithsonian Collections of the National Museum of History and Technology (Washington, D.C., 1974), pp. 51-56.
T. N. Clarke, A. D. Morrison-Low, and A. D. C. Simpson, Brass & Glass. Scientific Instrument Making Workshops in Scotland as illustrated by Instruments from the Arthur Frank Collection at the Royal Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1989), p. 83.
Currently not on view
date made
Saxton, Joseph
place made
United Kingdom: England, London
overall: 11 in; 27.94 cm
overall: 5 3/4 in x 11 1/4 in x 1 in; 14.605 cm x 28.575 cm x 2.54 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Proprietors of the Locks and Canals
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Water Currents
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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