Japanese Protractor, 1876 World's Fair

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The Japanese Empire Department of Education displayed this circular brass protractor at the 1876 World's Fair, the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. A notch for accessing the origin point is cut into the fourth quadrant of the crossbars spanning the diameter of the protractor. The protractor is marked every thirty degrees in the clockwise direction with Japanese characters for the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac: mouse, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog, and boar. The top of each symbol faces the center of the protractor.
The government of Japan aimed to demonstrate its nation's modernity and progress. In fact, Japan's Department of Education had just been established in 1870 to replace an Educational Board and to assume a more active role in the management of primary, middle, and secondary schools. John Eaton, the U.S. Commissioner of Education, arranged for the transfer of the entire exhibit in which this protractor appeared to the Bureau of Education (then part of the Department of the Interior) for a planned museum. The museum closed in 1906 due to high maintenance costs, and much of the collection was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1910. No information about the maker of this protractor is known.
See also ID Number MA.261306.
References: Japan, Department of Education, An Outline History of Japanese Education: Prepared for the Philadelphia International Exhibition, 1876 (New York: D. Appleton, 1876), 121–122, 191–202; U.S. Centennial Commission, International Exhibition, 1876. Reports and Awards, ed. Francis A. Walker (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880), viii:143, 335; U.S. Bureau of Education, Annual Report of the Commissioner (1876), ccxi–ccxii.
Currently not on view
date made
place made
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
overall: .1 cm x 10.7 cm x 10.7 cm; 1/32 in x 4 7/32 in x 4 7/32 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Transfer from Bureau of Education, Department of the Interior
Expositions and Fairs
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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