Counter, Stillman Counting Machine, U.S. Patent Office Model

During the second half of the 19th century, steam engines played a growing role in American life. This U.S. Patent Office model is for a counter used to count the number of revolutions of a steam engine. Paul Stillman (about 1811-1856) was one of three brothers who ran the New York City machine shop Novelty Iron Works. He took a particular interest in steam gauges,manometers, steam indicators, and pyrometers.
In 1848 Stillman took out a patent for a device to measure the pressure of steam and the extent of the vacuum in steam boilers and engines. This invention won him recognition from the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia. The measuring device on this instrument was analog, not digital. In 1854 he patented this digital improvement in counting machines. The following year, he patented a water gauge for steam boilers. Stillman’s son, Francis H. Stillman, also became a distinguished mechanical engineer.
The patent model has a wooden base and sides, with a metal plate across the top with four windows in it. Underneath each window is a cogged metal wheel, with the digits from 0 to 9 around the rim. To the right, on the same shaft as the wheels, is a brass crank that fits through a fifth hole in the plate. Moving the crank forward advances the rightmost wheel by one and, if necessary, activates the carry mechanism.
A mark on a paper tag nailed to the frame reads: Paul Stillman (/) Appa’ for Registering Numbers (/) Dec 15th 1852. A mark on the back of the base reads: 11577 (/) L 1201-1208.
The Novelty Iron Works made and sold Stillman’s register before and after his death. An 1864 price list, included at the back of a new edition of his The Steam Engine Indicator, and the Improved Manometer Steam and Vacuum Gauges; Their Utility and Application, indicates that the registers then sold with dials in 8”, 10” and 13” sizes, and had prices of $65.00 to $75.00 apiece.
P. Stillman, “Improvement in Counting-Machines,” U.S. Patent 11,577, August 22, 1854.
P. Stillman, The Steam Engine Indicator, and the Improved Manometer Steam and Vacuum Gauges; Their Utility and Application, New York: Van Nostrand, 1864, pp. 82-84, 94-95. Editions of this book appeared at least as early as 1851.
"Deceased Inventors," Scientific American, 20 #2 (Sept 20 1856), p. 11.
“Francis H. Stillman: A Biographical Sketch,” Cassier’s Magazine, 33, #6 (April 1908), p. 684.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Stillman, Paul
Stillman, Paul
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
steel (overall material)
paper (overall material)
wood (overall material)
overall: 3 cm x 12.5 cm x 8.5 cm; 1 3/16 in x 4 15/16 in x 3 3/8 in
place made
United States: New York, New York
place patented
United States: New York, New York
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Steam Engines
Science & Mathematics
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Media

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