F. W. Starr Drawing Instrument


This large ferrous metal object, painted black, has four curved legs and an indented central support that holds a flat slide. Moving the slide rotates two linked steel bars at the front (any scribe attached to these bars that would actually draw a curve is missing). A long metal handle with a brass spring and knob at the front moves above the slide. Its motion is controlled by a projection into a curved crosswise indentation, and controls the motion of the slide in the central support and the rotating bars.

A mark on the handle reads: STARR. A mark on the handle at the point of the crosswise indentation reads: PATD JAN 29 95. A metal tag attached to the top of the handle at the back reads: SOLD BY (/) THE (/) HISTORICAL (/) PUBLISHING (/) CO. (/) DAYTON, OHIO.

On January 29, 1895, Ferdinand W. Starr of Springfield, Ohio, was granted patent number 533,095 for his improvement to drawing instruments. His invention, he said, would draw parallel lines, angles, circles, ellipses, and more. Use of Starr’s patent by The Historical Publishing Co. of Dayton was the subject of patent infringement litigation in 1912 and 1913. Starr also used the patent in the design of a smaller ellipsograph that was sold in the early twentieth century by Queen and Company of Philadelphia and by Eugene Dietzgen Company of Chicago.

F. W. Starr was born in Germany in 1846, immigrating to the United States when he was an infant. According to the 1900 census records, he was the manager of a cutting machine, lived in Springfield, Ohio, with his wife of 20 years, Alice, and their five children. He received two other patents, in 1901 for a cutting instrument, and 1904 for a machine for cutting curved pieces. He died in 1938 at the age of 92.

This example of Starr’s instrument was found unprocessed in the Engineering collections and transferred to Mathematics in the early 1980s.


Ferdinand W. Starr, “Drawing-Instrument,” U.S. Patent 533095, applied for December 23, 1893, granted January 29, 1895.

“Starr v. Houser et al” Federal Reporter, Saint Paul: West Publishing, 1912, pp. 730-732.

“Houser v. Starr,” Federal Reporter, St. Paul: West Publishing, 1913, pp. 264-275.

“The Queen-Starr Ellipsograph,” The Railway Age, vol. 39 #6, February 10, 1905, p. 202.

Catalogue of Eugene Dietzgen Company, Chicago: Dietzgen, 1907-1908.

Biographical information about Starr may be gleaned from sources in ancestry.com

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: Ohio, Dayton

Subject: Drawing InstrumentsMathematics


See more items in: Medicine and Science: Mathematics, Science & Mathematics


Exhibition Location:

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2019.3036.01Nonaccession Number: 2019.3036Catalog Number: 2019.3036.01Patent Number: 533095

Object Name: drawing instrument

Physical Description: metal, ferrous (overall material)brass (overall; part: material)Measurements: overall: 25.5 cm x 81 cm x 76.5 cm; 10 1/32 in x 31 7/8 in x 30 1/8 in

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746b4-ab4d-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_1936984

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