Elliptic Curve

This elliptic curve was constructed for school use. The wooden ellipse has a handle that allows it to be held against a blackboard and traced. An oval shape, the ellipse is one of the four conic sections, the others being the circle, the parabola, and the hyperbola. Ellipses are important curves used in the mathematical sciences. For example, the planets follow elliptical orbits around the sun. Ellipses are required in engineering, architectural, and machine drawings, as well as in surveying and mapping. The study of the conic sections has been a part of secondary mathematics education for the better part of the last two centuries.
Various companies in the late 1800s and early 1900s sold geometric solids and surfaces for educational aides. For example, the Illustrated Catalogue of Kindergarten Material, Primary Aids, Maps, Globes and Charts, School Furniture and Blackboards (Boston: J. L. Hammett, 1895-6) offers thirty-six solids and surfaces for sale. These include several prisms, cylinders and cones, polygons, semi-circles, an ellipse and an ellipse that is cut in two perpendicular to the major axis. Since the ellipse in the collection was designed for tracing, it does not indicate the location of the center or foci. The major axis measures 10 in (25.5 cm) while the minor axis measures 7 7/8 in (20.1 cm). This elliptic curve was given to the Museum by Brown University in 1964.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1900
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
overall: 4.4 cm x 25.5 cm x 20 cm; 1 23/32 in x 10 1/32 in x 7 7/8 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Science & Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Drawing Instruments
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of the Department of Mathematics, The University of Michigan

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