Patent Model for Beam Compass Invented by Morton Toulmin


This metal, brass, and ivory U.S. patent model is mounted in a square wooden frame that is painted gold. The trammels are on a 3-1/4" beam that consists of two metal pins and one metal screw. One trammel has a needle point and an ivory handle. The other has an adjustable pen point. Nuts inside the trammels around the screw on the beam set the positions of the trammels. The instrument is supposed to draw lines, circles, concentric circles, and spirals.

Three paper tags are attached to the frame with a red ribbon. The first tag is marked: 1873 (/) M. Toulmin (/) Beam Drafting Compass (/) Received June 5 (/) Passed Aug 5./7. The second tag is marked: 142,823 (/) 3 (/) M. Toulmin (/) Beam Compasses (/) Patented SEP 16 1873 (/) Dividers 1873. A printed picture of the instrument and a summary of the patent application are pasted to the back of this tag. The third tag is marked: (2–225.) (/) No. 142,823. (/) M. Toulmin (/) Beam Compasses (/) Patented Sept. 16th (/) Dividers 1873. This model was found in the Smithsonian, probably during refurbishing of the textile exhibits between 1953 and 1964.

The patentee was probably Joshua Morton S. Toulmin (1823–1896), who was born in Alabama to English immigrants. He was a cotton broker in Mobile in the 1850s and then moved to New Orleans, where he received four patents between 1872 and 1874, including the 1873 patent for this object and "Improvement in Marine Camels" (no. 125,352, issued April 2, 1872). He then became a patent agent in Washington, D.C., and received several more patents himself between 1876 and 1887. He then moved to Baltimore, where he established the short-lived Toulmin Electric Railway Gate Company in 1886 and received more patents between 1887 and 1890, including "Pneumatic Street Car Propulsion" (no. 440,666, issued November 18, 1890). He held a total of about 15 patents for a variety of mechanical and mercantile devices, but this beam compass was apparently never manufactured commercially. Toulmin's son, Harry Aubrey Toulmin (1858–1942), was the highly successful attorney for the Wright Brothers of Dayton, Ohio.

References: Morton Toulmin, "Improvement in Beam Compasses" (U.S. Patent 142,823 issued September 16, 1873); "Descendants of Abraham Toulmin of Chard in Somerset,"; U.S. Census Records for 1850 and 1880; The Baltimore Sun (May 26, 1886), 4.

Date Made: 1873

Maker: Toulmin, Morton

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: Louisiana, New Orleans

Subject: MathematicsDrawing InstrumentsPatent Models


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


Exhibition Location:

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: MA.315258Accession Number: 219305Catalog Number: 315258

Object Name: beam compass

Physical Description: wood (overall material)metal (overall material)paper (overall material)ivory (overall material)glass (overall material)Measurements: overall: 16 cm x 16 cm x 2.1 cm; 6 5/16 in x 6 5/16 in x 13/16 in


Record Id: nmah_904414

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