Japanese Proportional Dividers

These brass dividers have metal points, short at one end and longer at the other. The legs are slotted to allow a brass set screw to be placed at one of several positions on two proportional scales that are engraved on one of the legs. The scales are labeled with Japanese characters, but they are presumably for drawing lines and circles at different ratios.
The Japanese Empire Department of Education displayed this instrument at the 1876 World's Fair, the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, in order to demonstrate its nation's modernity and progress. In fact, the Department of Education had just been established in 1870 to replace an Educational Board and 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 these dividers 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.
Other educational mathematical objects exhibited by Japan in 1876 include MA.261301, MA.261305, and MA.261306.
References: Michael Scott-Scott, Drawing Instruments (Aylesbury, England: Shire Publications Ltd., 1986), 14–15; 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
before 1876
place made
Physical Description
steel (overall material)
brass (overall material)
overall: 1.7 cm x 17.2 cm x 1.5 cm; 21/32 in x 6 25/32 in x 19/32 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Transfer from Bureau of Education, Department of the Interior
Dividers, Proportional
Expositions and Fairs
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Dividers and Compasses
Data Source
National Museum of American History