Tape (Chesterman)

This steel tape marked "CHESTERMAN'S PATENT SHEFFIELD" and "100 Ft." is graduated in 100ths of a foot on one side, and links and poles on the other. Joints are present every 20 feet. The case is leather with a brass handle. The signature refers to James Chesterman (1795–1867), a metal worker in Sheffield, England, who received a British patent for a method of using a spring to rewind measuring tapes 1821. In 1842 Chesterman and James Bottom patented a woven cloth tape that incorporated strands of wire. Chesterman's 1853 patented process for heat-treating long strips of steel led to the manufacture of steel tapes that remained virtually unchanged for over 50 years.
Scientific American called attention to Chesterman & Co. in 1869, noting that their patent steel tape "is about the most unique thing of the kind we have ever seen," and mentioning its portability, neatness, and exact measuring capability. W. & L. E. Gurley offered Chesterman steel tapes as early as 1871, describing them as "made of a thin ribbon of steel, which is jointed at intervals, and wound up in a leathern case, having a folding handle." Gurley went on to say that these tapes were the best on the market, but at $17, their "great cost" prevented their general use. Gurley also sold Chesterman tapes of cloth reinforced with wire; these cost just $5.25.
Ref: "Steel Measuring Tapes," Scientific American 21 (1869): 216.
W. & L .E. Gurley, Manual of the Principal Instruments Used in American Engineering and Surveying (Troy, N.Y., 1871), p. 132, and price list.
James Chesterman & Co., Chesterman's Patent Measures, Engineers' Tools, &c. (Sheffield, n.d.), pp. 16–17.
Douglas J. Hallam, The First 200 Years. A Short History of Rabone Chesterman Limited (1984).
Currently not on view
place made
United Kingdom: England, Sheffield, Sheffield
overall: 1 1/4 in x 4 1/2 in; 3.175 cm x 11.43 cm
tape: 3/8 in x 100 ft; .9525 cm x 30.48 m
overall: 1 1/2 in x 4 3/4 in x 4 1/2 in; 3.81 cm x 12.065 cm x 11.43 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Estate of Mr. and Mrs. Roberdeau Buchanan
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Surveying and Geodesy
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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