The viscosimeter began as a scientific instrument for laboratory use in the 1830s. In time, due to increased industrial production, demand for quality control, and use of mineral-based oils, it gained real-world importance. The favored form for petroleum products measured the time it took for a certain volume of fluid to empty out of a container. The standard American design was developed by George M. Saybolt, unveiled in the 1880s, and manufactured by the C. J. Tagliabue Mfg. Co. for the Standard Oil Company in New York. It resembled the viscosimeters designed by Boverton Redwood in Great Britain and by Karl Engler in Germany.
Tagliabue brought the basic Saybolt viscosimeter to the open market in 1905. An improved form adapted for steam, gas, or electric heating, appeared in 1914. It cost $82 with a stopwatch, and $75 without. Following Saybolt’s death in 1924, the New York Times implied that the viscosimeter was largely responsible for his $100,000 estate.
This example is marked: “The SAYBOLT Standard / UNIVERSAL VISCOSIMETER / C. H. Tagliabue Mfg. Co. / New York / Sole Sales Agents” and “C. J. TAGLIABUE MFG. CO. N.Y.” and “2880” and “PATENT PENDING” and “2880 STANDARD UNIVERSAL VISCOSIMETER, GEO. M. SAYBOLT, NEW YORK”. It was made after Saybolt applied for a patent in 1914, and before the patent was issued in 1915. The U.S. Military Academy donated it to the Smithsonian.
Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.