Kern Semicircular Protractor

This semicircular protractor is housed in its original wooden fitted case. The case is in very poor condition, but it was originally covered with thin leather and lined with purple velvet. The case is marked: I. KERN á AARAU [/] EN SUISSE. The maker’s mark indicates the protractor was produced between 1819 and 1885 in the workshop founded by Jakob Kern (1790–1867) in Aarau, Switzerland.
Renamed Kern & Co. in 1885, the firm was highly regarded for its craftsmanship. Its products can be found in the catalogs of many 20th American manufacturers and retailers. Kern & Co. merged with the Wild Leitz group in 1988, and the plant in Aarau closed in 1991. Former employees ensured that 1,700 objects were preserved as the Kern Collection in the city museum of Aarau, Stadtmuseum Schlössli Aarau.
The protractor is made of German silver, also called nickel silver. It is graduated along the outer edge to one-quarter degree and engraved by tens from 350 to 0 to 190 in both directions, from left to right and from right to left. A center cross-plate, or horncentre, contains crosshairs to assist with placing the protractor on a drawing. A movable arm attached to the center contains a vernier scale that allows the user to read angles to one minute of arc. The number 8 is stamped on the back of the vernier arm. The arm also has a blade-like extension three inches long. The arm was lengthened and squared off in versions sold in the 20th century. In 1909, Keuffel & Esser sold a similar protractor in a mahogany case for $19.25.
This protractor was owned by the renowned American designer of steam engines, Erasmus Darwin Leavitt Jr. (1836–1916), and donated by his granddaughter, Margaret van D. Rice.
See also ID numbers MA*247966 and 1978.2110.06.
References: Juerg Dedual, “Milestones of Kern & Co. AG,” Virtual Archive of Wild Heerbrugg,; “Kern & Co. Studiensammlung im Stadtmuseum Schlössli Aarau,”; W. & L. E. Gurley, A Manual of the Principal Instruments Used in American Engineering and Surveying, 37th ed. (Troy, N.Y., 1903), 328–329; Catalogue of Keuffel & Esser Co. (New York, 1909), 170.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Kern & Co.
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
german silver (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
overall: 2.8 cm x 37 cm x 18 cm; 1 3/32 in x 14 9/16 in x 7 3/32 in
place made
Schweiz: Aargau, Aarau
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Science & Mathematics
Drafting, Engineering
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Margaret van D. Rice
Additional Media

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