Innovation

While only one patent model for a protractor survives in the Smithsonian collections—from an inventor with a colorful personal history—several of the other objects also provide examples of technical innovation. For instance, some are manufactured versions of patented inventions. Others were named for the person with whom they were associated, even if that engineer or craftsman laid no claim to designing that protractor.

Meriwether Jeff Thompson (1826–1876) grew up in Harpers Ferry and attended military school in Charleston, Virginia (now West Virginia). After he was rejected for admission by West Point and Virginia Military Institute, he worked his way West. He settled in St.
Description
Meriwether Jeff Thompson (1826–1876) grew up in Harpers Ferry and attended military school in Charleston, Virginia (now West Virginia). After he was rejected for admission by West Point and Virginia Military Institute, he worked his way West. He settled in St. Joseph, Missouri, when he married at age twenty-two. He then found employment in civil engineering and rose to prominence with the construction of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, which was completed in 1859. In the late 1850s, he served as mayor of St. Joseph. On April 3, 1860, he gave a speech officially opening the Pony Express.
Thompson's sympathies were with the South. As a brigadier general for the Missouri State Guard and, later, as a commander in the Confederate army, Thompson conducted raids and participated in battles. His exploits won him the nickname "Swamp Fox" of Missouri. He was a prisoner of war in 1863 and 1864. After the Civil War, he pledged allegiance to the Union and was hired by Albert L. Lee to work on swamp reclamation as Surveyor General and Chief State Engineer of Louisiana, where he contracted tuberculosis. He is buried in St. Joseph.
Thompson also engaged in a variety of creative activities, including writing poetry, crafting a cipher, and inventing this instrument. This example of his invention is the patent model he submitted with his application, which was awarded Patent No. 21,784 on October 12, 1858. The device consists of a metal quadrant of a circle on a movable arm. The edge of the quadrant bears equidistant, unlabeled divisions which are approximately 1/4" apart. These marks permit the instrument to be classified as a protractor. On the interior of the quadrant are engraved lines intended to permit the user to lay out regular polygons without first inscribing the polygons in a circle. The instrument bears settings for polygons of 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16 sides. The movable arm is engraved: Mitre Guage [sic].
The movable arm fits between a handle made from two pieces of wood and two pieces of metal that are fastened together. One side of the handle is engraved with a table for the sides of regular polygons per foot of the interior diameter of a circle. An equilateral triangle circumscribed around a circle is depicted. The object is signed: M. Jeff. Thompson (/) St. Joseph Mo. The other side of the handle is engraved with a table for the sides of regular polygons per foot of the exterior diameter of a circle. An equilateral triangle inscribed in a circle is depicted. The markings have oxidized and turned green, particularly on the table values. The patent model tag has been lost.
References: Barbara Suit Janssen, Patent Models Index: Guide to the Collections of the National Museum of American History, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 2010), 23; Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1858: Arts and Manufactures, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: 1859), 104; M. Jeff Thompson Papers, 1848–1959, Louisiana Research Collection Manuscripts Collection 72, Tulane University Special Collections, New Orleans, http://specialcollections.tulane.edu/archon/?p=collections/findingaid&id=32&q=&rootcontentid=111913; Meriwether Jeff Thompson Papers, 1860–1940, 01566, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/t/Thompson,Meriwether_Jeff.html; Missouri History Museum, "Meriwether Jeff Thompson," The Civil War in Missouri, http://www.civilwarmo.org/educators/resources/info-sheets/meriwether-jeff-thompson; Doris Land Mueller, M. Jeff Thompson: Missouri's Swamp Fox of the Confederacy (Columbia: University of Missouri, 2007); Cathy Barton, Dave Para, and Bob Dyer, "The Swamp Fox," Civil War Music of the Western Border, http://www.bartonpara.com/civilwar/rebel/swamp.htm.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1858
Associated Date
1858-10-12
maker
Thompson, Meriwether J.
ID Number
MA.315262
accession number
219305
catalog number
315262
Even though American practitioners highly prized European craftsmanship, some Americans competed relatively early on in U.S. history with imported products by manufacturing, modifying, and marketing mathematical instruments.
Description
Even though American practitioners highly prized European craftsmanship, some Americans competed relatively early on in U.S. history with imported products by manufacturing, modifying, and marketing mathematical instruments. Between 1825 and 1828, brothers John (1796–1865) and Horace Minot (1803–1878) Pool established a firm in Easton, Mass. Using the name J. & H. M. Pool, they sold levels, compasses, and chains to surveyors, architects, and civil engineers. Within a few years, they had partnered with distributors in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
On June 16, 1830, John patented a "geometrical protractor" in the form of the instrument depicted here. Like all U.S. patents issued before 1836, the patent was not numbered and the record was lost to fire. However, Ed Hands and Bob Vogel reported that the Pool family retained a copy of the patent which survives. Although the firm apparently was financially successful and their products were of high quality, John and H. M. parted ways in 1841 and established separate instrument businesses. The brothers and their sons maintained personal and financial connections—at least one of John's sons worked for H.M.—but both businesses closed by the 1880s.
This quarter-circle brass protractor is graduated to quarter-degrees. The brothers devised their own form of a dividing engine to engrave the angle markings. The protractor is labeled by tens from 40° to 0° to 40° and from 50° to 90° to 50°, both in the clockwise direction. The left leg of the protractor is marked: J & H. M. POOL (/) EASTON, MASS. (/) PATENT; $8.00; 40. The protractor is mounted on a mahogany base that extends on either side as a rectangle with width 1-3/8". Unlike other Pool geometrical protractors, which have only the rectangle as backing, the wood on this instrument is cut in a wedge so that the back of the protractor is completely covered. A piece of brass is affixed to the lower edge of the wooden base.
A brass arm is affixed to the protractor's vertex with a wing nut. The portion that slides over the protractor's numbers, as a vernier would, resembles a belt buckle. A curlique and arrow are engraved, perhaps by hand, on the inside of this part of the arm. The number 40 near the wing nut almost aligns with the number 40 on the left leg of the protractor. The extending part of the arm, which is over 14" long, is marked with a diagonal scale. The portion of the scale for measuring to 1/100 of an inch is labeled by ones from 1 to 7, 9 to 1, and 1 to 9. The remainder of the scale is marked by tens from 10 to 90. Ten units correspond to one inch.
References: Donald and Anne Wing, "The Pool Family of Easton, Massachusetts," Rittenhouse 4 (1990): 118–126; United States Patent Office, A List of Patents Granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836 (Washington, D.C., 1872), 452; William Lincoln, "[Report from] Worcester Agricultural Society," The New England Farmer, ed. Thomas G. Fessenden, 9, no. 21 (10 December 1830): 164–165; Robert Vogel and Edmund Hands, The Pools of Easton, Massachusetts, Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, 50 #1, 1997, pp. 1-11.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1830-1880
maker
Pool, John
Pool, Horace Minot
ID Number
MA.317869
accession number
231764
catalog number
317869
Josiah Lyman (1811–1889) patented this device on May 25, 1858 (no. 20,356) and made additional improvement no. 280 on May 15, 1860. A semicircular German silver protractor pivots on a thin metal arm (61 cm or 24 inches long) that resembles the base of a T-square.
Description
Josiah Lyman (1811–1889) patented this device on May 25, 1858 (no. 20,356) and made additional improvement no. 280 on May 15, 1860. A semicircular German silver protractor pivots on a thin metal arm (61 cm or 24 inches long) that resembles the base of a T-square. The arm is heavily tarnished. The protractor is divided by half-degrees and marked by tens from 20° to 90° to 20° and from 70° to 0° to 70°, both in the clockwise direction. The protractor is also marked for compass headings: W (at 20°), N (at 90°), E (at 20°). The protractor is slightly tarnished, and the number 30 is scratched near the 30° mark on the left side of the protractor. A vernier on the inside edge of the protractor, attached to the long arm, permits angle readings to one minute of arc. The number 89 is stamped on the front side of the housing for the screw that tightens the vernier from the back of the protractor.
There is another screw at the right side of the protractor base. The base is marked: PATENTED BY J. LYMAN. (/) MAY 25, 1858. (/) CRANE. &. VINTON. (/) MAKERS. BRATTLEBORO. VT. According to the patent, the long arm should be marked with scales—these scales are what make the instrument a trigonometer. However, this particular object is not so marked. The number 79 is stamped above the pivot on the back of the protractor. The trigonometer is stored in a fitted butternut case. The case is marked ACPL 1848 (/) 11-3-TOP, presumably to indicate the location of item number 1848 in the Amherst College Physics Laboratory, the donor of the instrument.
Lucius H. Crane (1807–1877) and John F. Vinton (1834–1889), machinists of Brattleboro, Vt., manufactured 100 protracting trigonometers for Lyman. Edwin Putnam, who worked in Crane's shop, probably made the ruling markings. Vinton's father, Timothy (1803–1889), was a prominent American paper manufacturer. Vinton served as a lieutenant in the 16th Vermont Volunteers during the Civil War. Despite testimonials from prominent professors and government surveyors, the upheavals of the war apparently prevented this device from finding a market. A 22-inch, German silver protracting trigonometer like this one was priced at $35.00 in 1862. See also 2009.0244.01.
References: Josiah Lyman, "Protractor" (U.S. Patent 20,356 filed May 25, 1858), "Drafting Plotters" (U.S. Patent 38,904 filed June 16, 1863), and "Protracting Trigonometers" (U.S. Patent 149,590 filed April 14, 1874); Peggy A. Kidwell, "Josiah Lyman's Protracting Trigonometer," Rittenhouse 3 (1988): 11–14; Robert C. Miller, "A Lyman Protracting Trigonometer Made by Heller & Brightly," Rittenhouse 3 (1989): 129–131; Walton's Vermont Register, Farmer's Almanac, and Business Directory for 1875 (Claremont, N.H., 1875), 99; Mary Rogers Cabot, Annals of Brattleboro, 2 vol. (Brattleboro, Vt.: E. L. Hildreth & Co., 1922), i:450, ii:641; "Timothy Vinton," The American Stationer 27 (1890): 80; Josiah Lyman, A Manual of the Protracting Trigonometer (New York: Sheldon & Co., 1862), v.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1860s
Associated Date
1858-05-25
1863-05
maker
Crane & Vinton
Crane, Lucius H.
Vinton, John F.
inventor
Lyman, Josiah
ID Number
MA.328738
accession number
277678
catalog number
328738
This brass semicircular protractor is divided by single degrees and marked by tens from 10° to 90° to 10°. It is attached with metal screws to a set of brass parallel rules. Brass S-shaped hinges connect the rules to each other.
Description
This brass semicircular protractor is divided by single degrees and marked by tens from 10° to 90° to 10°. It is attached with metal screws to a set of brass parallel rules. Brass S-shaped hinges connect the rules to each other. The bottom left screw on the parallel rules does not attach to the bottom piece. A rectangular brass arm is screwed to the center of the protractor. A thin brass piece screwed to the arm is marked with a small arrow for pointing to the angle markings. The protractor is stored in a wooden case, which also contains a pair of metal dividers (5-1/4" long).
The base of the protractor is signed: L. Dod, Newark. Lebbeus Dod (1739–1816) manufactured mathematical instruments in New Jersey and is credited with inventing the parallel rule protractor. He served as a captain of artillery during the Revolutionary War and made muskets. His three sons, Stephen (1770–1855), Abner (1772–1847), and Daniel (1778–1823), were also noted instrument and clock makers. The family was most associated with Mendham, N.J. (where a historic marker on N.J. Route 24 indicates Dod's house), but Dod is known to have also lived at various times in Newark.
ID number MA.310890 is a similar protractor and parallel rule. Compare also to a Dod instrument owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/5535.
References: Bethuel Lewis Dodd and John Robertson Burnet, "Biographical Sketch of Lebbeus Dod," in Genealogies of the Male Descendants of Daniel Dod . . . 1646–1863 (Newark, N.J., 1864), 144–147; Alexander Farnham, "More Information About New Jersey Toolmakers," The Tool Shed, no. 120 (February 2002), http://www.craftsofnj.org/Newjerseytools/Alex%20Farnham%20more%20Jeraey%20Tools/Alex%20Farnham.htm; Deborah J. Warner, “Surveyor's Compass,” National Museum of American History Physical Sciences Collection: Surveying and Geodesy, http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/surveying/object.cfm?recordnumber=747113; Peggy A. Kidwell, "American Parallel Rules: Invention on the Fringes of Industry," Rittenhouse 10, no. 39 (1996): 90–96.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
late 1700s
maker
Dod, Lebbeus
ID Number
1978.2110.06
accession number
1978.2110
catalog number
336732
It may seem obvious that surveyors, navigators, and mathematics students would need to measure angles. These practitioners are not the only audiences for protractors, however, since angle measurement is necessary in a variety of other fields.
Description
It may seem obvious that surveyors, navigators, and mathematics students would need to measure angles. These practitioners are not the only audiences for protractors, however, since angle measurement is necessary in a variety of other fields. Geologists examine the faces and edges of crystals and recreate the crystals' structures by drawing stereographic projections. In 1900, Samuel Lewis Penfield (1856–1906), a geology professor at Yale University who earned his Ph.B. from Yale in 1877, patented two forms of "contact-goniometer." (A goniometer measures plane angles.) These instruments, along with a stereographic protractor and beam compasses that Penfield patented in 1901, helped establish the technique of stereographic projections in crystallography. Penfield aimed to simplify the work involved in the technique and to produce an inexpensive instrument.
This semicircular paper protractor appears to be an example of the contact-goniometer awarded patent number 655,004 on July 31, 1900. It is printed on a white rectangular card. It is divided by half-angles and marked by tens in both directions (counterclockwise and clockwise) from 0° to 180°. A ruler, divided to millimeters and marked by ones from 0 cm to 14 cm, is printed along the top edge of the card. A diagonal scale and scales for dividing the inch into 10, 12, and 16 parts appear in the interior of the protractor. A celluloid arm is attached at the vertex of the protractor. Users were to set angles according to a horizontal line on the arm but then draw angles along the edge of the arm.
The lower left corner of the card reads: ARM PROTRACTOR AND GONIOMETER (/) Designed by S. L. Penfield. A mark at the lower right corner of the scales of equal parts affirms that the protractor is: ENGINE DIVIDED. The protractor is contained in a paper envelope, which also holds a sheet of instructions written by Penfield. The envelope is imprinted: ARM PROTRACTOR AND GONIOMETER. It is also stamped: Cenco 88210.
The Mineralogical Laboratory of Yale's Sheffield Scientific School offered early versions of this instrument. Central Scientific Company of Chicago (abbreviated Cenco) sold the Penfield arm protractor and goniometer in this form from as early as 1909 (as item 427) to as late as 1950 (as item 88210). In 1914, the instrument cost 67 cents. William C. Marshall (of Bridgeport Works and formerly at the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale) listed it as a required tool in Elementary Machine Drawing and Design (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1912), 8. Edward Salisbury Dana discussed Penfield's instrument in more detail in A Textbook of Mineralogy, With an Extended Treatise on Crystallography and Physical Mineralogy, 3rd ed. rev. William E. Ford (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1922), 33–40.
References: Samuel Lewis Penfield, "Contact-Goniometer" (U.S. Patent 655,004 filed April 2, 1900), "Contact-Goniometer" (U.S. Patent 655,005 filed April 2, 1900), "Stereographic Protractor" (U.S. Patent 667,570 filed October 25, 1900), and "Beam-Compass" (U.S. Patent 673,687 filed December 31, 1900); S. L. Penfield, "The Stereographical Projection and its Possibilities, from a Graphical Standpoint," American Journal of Science 4th ser. 11 (1901): 1–24, 115–144; Central Scientific Company, Physical and Chemical Apparatus Catalogue M (May, 1914), 42; L. V. Pirsson, "Samuel Lewis Penfield," American Journal of Science, 4th ser. 22 (1906): 353–367; Horace L. Wells, "Samuel Lewis Penfield, 1856–1906," in Biographical Memoirs (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1909), vi:119–146; Shellie Snell, "Central Scientific Company: A Brief History," Robert A. Paselk Scientific Instrument Museum, Humboldt State University, http://www.humboldt.edu/scimus/Manufac/Cenco/Cenco.htm.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1909-1950
patent date
1900
maker
Central Scientific Company
inventor
Penfield, Samuel Lewis
ID Number
1982.0147.02
accession number
1982.0147
catalog number
1982.0147.02
This German silver semicircular protractor fits (and slides) within a rectangular brass frame. The protractor is graduated to half-degrees and marked by tens from 0° to 90° to 0° in both the clockwise and counterclockwise directions.
Description
This German silver semicircular protractor fits (and slides) within a rectangular brass frame. The protractor is graduated to half-degrees and marked by tens from 0° to 90° to 0° in both the clockwise and counterclockwise directions. The frame is open on the interior except for an extension at the center, to which is screwed a German silver trapezoid with points extending from each side of the base. The trapezoid bears a signature: Crozet's Protractor. B. Pike & Son. N. York. Two sliding thumbscrews in the trapezoid piece permit four different brass scales to be attached. Each scale is rectangular and beveled on the graduated side. The first scale is 10.4 cm long (4-1/4 inches) and is marked from 0 to 13, with each mark divided into 10 parts. The second is the same length and marked in the same way but in the opposite direction (right to left). The third is not numbered; it is 9 cm (3-17/32 inches) long and divided into 17-1/2 sections, each divided into 10 parts. The fourth is 10.4 cm long and marked from 0 to 10.7, with each mark divided into 10 parts.
In 1831, Benjamin Pike (1777–1863) of New York took his eldest son, Benjamin Jr., into his business of retailing optical, mathematical, and philosophical instruments, renaming his firm "Benjamin Pike & Son." Son Daniel joined the firm in 1841, necessitating a change in name to "Benjamin Pike & Sons." The name reverted to the singular "Son" in 1843, when Benjamin Jr. established his own business. In 1850, the youngest son, Gardner, joined Benjamin Pike & Son, and the firm again was known as "Benjamin Pike & Sons." The business was called "Benjamin Pike's Son" from 1867 to 1916. Thus, this protractor was presumably made in the 1830s or 1840s. However, it was not advertised in Pike's 1848 or 1856 catalogs, nor is it listed in later Pike catalogs.
This form of protractor is associated with Claudius Crozet (1789–1864), a French civil engineer who taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, from 1817 to 1823. Crozet served as principal engineer for the state of Virginia until 1832, was a founding faculty member of the Virginia Military Institute between 1837 and 1845, and surveyed roads, railways, and aqueducts throughout his life. The date Crozet devised this instrument is not known. By the late 19th century, it was widely publicized. The entry for "protractor" in Farrow's Military Encyclopedia reads in part: "Crozet's protractor . . . is named from its inventor, an officer of the United States Engineer Corps, and is considered the best among the various protractors yet devised. It may be used with the T-rule or straight edge. The feather edge is always set to the starting point and the line produced without puncturing the paper. The feather edge is the only metallic bearing upon the paper, small ivory projections on the underside of the frame keep the metal from contact with the paper and prevent soiling it." The "Crozet's protractor" illustrating the entry, and other depictions in various trade catalogs, do not have the arm and interchangeable scales on the lower edge of the instrument, however. Instead, they have thumbscrews and a vernier within the T-square frame housing the protractor.
Nonetheless, this instrument is not unique. In 1993, Christie's of London auctioned a Crozet's protractor exactly like this one and bearing the same maker's mark.
This particular instrument is very tarnished. John William Christopher Draper and James Christopher Draper of Pittsburgh donated it to the Smithsonian in 1973.
References: Deborah J. Warner, “Browse by Maker: Pike,” National Museum of American History Physical Sciences Collection: Surveying and Geodesy, http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/surveying/maker.cfm?makerid=22; Benjamin Pike Jr., Pike’s Illustrated Descriptive Catalogue of Optical, Mathematical, and Philosophical Instruments, vol. 1 (New York, 1848), 11–13, 28–32, 39–40, 43–45; Illustrated Catalogue of Instruments and Materials for Drawing, Surveying and Civil Engineering. Manufactured, Imported, and For Sale by Benj. Pike's Son & Co. (New York, [ca. 1880]), 30–33; James W. Queen & Co., Catalogue of Mathematical and Engineering Instruments and Materials (Philadelphia, 1887), 56; Edward S. Farrow, comp., Farrow's Military Encyclopedia (New York, 1895), ii:598; W. & L. E. Gurley, A Manual of the Principal Instruments Used in American Engineering and Surveying, 31st ed. (Troy, N.Y., 1895), 321; Catalogue of Keuffel & Esser Co. (New York, 1909), 168; Christie's, "Sale 6105/Lot 138: A lacquered brass Crozet's Protractor," http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=3610622.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1831-1850
maker
Pike, Jr., Benjamin
ID Number
MA.335354
accession number
304826
catalog number
335354

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