School

Although protractors began to appear in practical geometry textbooks in the 18th century, it was not until the turn of the 20th century that they were used systematically in mathematics teaching in American schools. Some protractors were small and inexpensive, intended for purchase and use by individual students. These might be made from new materials, such as plastic. Other protractors for educational use were oversized, designed for teachers to provide demonstrations of concepts at the blackboard. Two protractors in the collection were manufactured in Japan and displayed at the 1876 World's Fair to help demonstrate the modernization of education in that nation.

The Japanese Empire Department of Education displayed this circular brass protractor at the 1876 World's Fair, the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
Description
The Japanese Empire Department of Education displayed this circular brass protractor at the 1876 World's Fair, the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. A notch for accessing the origin point is cut into the fourth quadrant of the crossbars spanning the diameter of the protractor. The protractor is marked every thirty degrees in the clockwise direction with Japanese characters for the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac: mouse, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog, and boar. The top of each symbol faces the center of the protractor.
The government of Japan aimed to demonstrate its nation's modernity and progress. In fact, Japan's Department of Education had just been established in 1870 to replace an Educational Board and to 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 this protractor 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. No information about the maker of this protractor is known.
See also ID Number MA.261306.
References: 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.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1876
ID Number
MA.261305
accession number
51116
catalog number
261305
This brass circular protractor is divided by single degrees and marked every thirty degrees in the clockwise direction with Japanese characters facing outwards and representing the Chinese zodiac: mouse, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog, and b
Description
This brass circular protractor is divided by single degrees and marked every thirty degrees in the clockwise direction with Japanese characters facing outwards and representing the Chinese zodiac: mouse, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog, and boar. Four arms extend toward the center of the protractor and meet around an open circle 3 cm. in diameter. The circle is open, except for a protrusion containing a pinhole at the origin point.
The Japanese Empire Department of Education assembled an extensive exhibit of books, reports, examinations, maps, photographs, paintings, classroom equipment, medical apparatus, and drawing instruments for the 1876 World's Fair, the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Five types of protractors were included in the display, two of which survive in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
See also ID Number MA.261305.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1876
ID Number
MA.261306
accession number
51116
catalog number
261306
This paper semicircular protractor is divided by degrees and marked by tens from 10 to 170 degrees in both directions. The letter A is printed in the bottom left corner of the protractor, and B is printed in the bottom right corner of the protractor.
Description
This paper semicircular protractor is divided by degrees and marked by tens from 10 to 170 degrees in both directions. The letter A is printed in the bottom left corner of the protractor, and B is printed in the bottom right corner of the protractor. Centered under the origin point of the protractor is printed the inventor's mark: Combination Protractor, Rule, and Square (/) W. W. Hart, University of Wisconsin.
A ruler along the top edge is divided to 1/8-inch and marked by ones from 0 to 5. A ruler along the bottom edge is divided to millimeterS and marked by ones from 0 to 12. The typeface of the inventor's mark is similar to that shown in Hart's textbooks published in the 1920s, such as Walter Wilson Hart, Junior High School Mathematics, vol. 1 (Boston: D. C. Heath & Co., 1921), vii, 131. See also MA.304722.06.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1925
designer
Hart, Walter Wilson
ID Number
MA.304722.07
accession number
304722
catalog number
304722.07
In the early 20th century, some authors of mathematics textbooks and their publishers began to include protractors in the endpapers of the books.
Description
In the early 20th century, some authors of mathematics textbooks and their publishers began to include protractors in the endpapers of the books. They wanted middle and high school students to informally experience geometry through drawing and experiment before moving on to constructing formal geometrical proofs. Walter W. Hart, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, went so far as to design a combination protractor and ruler for insertion in the textbooks he authored with professional mathematics textbook author Webster Wells.
By 1921, Hart's protractor was described and illustrated in the text with a cardboard version included for student use. If students lost their protractors, teachers could order replacements from D. C. Heath & Co. for four to five cents each, depending on the quantity ordered. By 1926, Hart was boasting that his invention had anticipated the standards recommended in 1923 by the Mathematical Association of America's National Committee on Mathematical Requirements. This example probably dates from one of Hart's later textbooks.
This paper semicircular protractor is divided by degrees and marked by tens from 10 to 170 degrees in both directions. The letter A is printed in the bottom left corner of the protractor, and B is printed in the bottom right corner of the protractor. Centered under the origin point of the protractor is printed the inventor's mark: COMBINATION PROTRACTOR, RULE, AND SQUARE (/) W. W. HART, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN. A ruler along the top edge is divided to 1/8-inch, and marked by ones from 0 to 5. A ruler along the bottom edge is divided to millimeters and marked by ones from 0 to 12. This protractor was donated by the Brown University mathematics department in 1973. It is notably discolored and stained. See also MA.304722.07.
References: Peggy Aldrich Kidwell, Amy Ackerberg-Hastings, and David Lindsay Roberts, Tools of American Mathematics Teaching, 1800–2000 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 176–179, 364–365; Walter Wilson Hart, Junior High School Mathematics, vol. 1 (Boston: D. C. Heath & Co., 1921), vii, 131; Webster Wells and Walter W. Hart, Modern Plane Geometry (Boston: D. C. Heath & Co., 1926), 3, 16; National Committee on Mathematical Requirements, The Reorganization of Mathematics in Secondary Education ([Oberlin, OH]: Mathematical Association of America, 1923), 22. See also Walter Wilson Hart, Progressive Plane and Solid Geometry (Boston: D. C. Heath & Co., 1936), iii–vii, 16–17; Claude H. Ewing and Walter W. Hart, Essential Vocational Mathematics (Boston: D. C. Heath & Co., 1945), 99; and Walter Wilson Hart, Veryl Schult, and Henry Swain, Plane Geometry and Supplements (Boston: D. C. Heath & Co., 1959), 24.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
after 1930
Date made
post 1930
designer
Hart, Walter Wilson
ID Number
MA.304722.06
accession number
1973304722
catalog number
304722.06
Blackboard dividers that are different from this instrument are advertised as model number 1781 in the Frederick Post Company's 1930 and 1936 catalogs.
Description
Blackboard dividers that are different from this instrument are advertised as model number 1781 in the Frederick Post Company's 1930 and 1936 catalogs. The instrument is not shown in the 1949–1950 catalog.In the 16th and 17th centuries, surveyors and navigators began to use instruments made especially for measuring off angles. These were generally small instruments made of metal and finely divided. In the years following the Civil War, as the number of American high schools grew, so did the number of students studying practical geometry and trigonometry. To teach them, teachers used inexpensive protractors made for use at the blackboard.
This example is made of fiberboard, painted white on the front, and has a wooden handle so that it can be held upright. It is divided along the edge to intervals of 5 degrees. By comparison, most protractors are divided much more finely. The Eugene Dietzgen Co. of Chicago sold blackboard protractors like this one from about 1925.
The instrument was used by Margaret G. Aldrich (1918-2007), who taught at Montgomery College from 1957 to 1984, chairing of the math department on the Takoma Park campus for many years. She had an undergraduate degree in mathematics and an M.A. in psychology, both from the University of Minnesota.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1950
maker
Eugene Dietzgen Company
ID Number
1999.0117.02
catalog number
1999.0117.02
accession number
1999.0117
This clear plastic semicircular protractor is contained within an irregularly shaped piece of plastic that features a French curve at the top, two triangles (of 60° and 45°) on the sides, and a 5-1/2" scale along the bottom.The scale is divided to 16ths of an inch and is marked b
Description
This clear plastic semicircular protractor is contained within an irregularly shaped piece of plastic that features a French curve at the top, two triangles (of 60° and 45°) on the sides, and a 5-1/2" scale along the bottom.
The scale is divided to 16ths of an inch and is marked by single inches from 1" to 5". The protractor is divided to single degrees and marked by tens from 10° to 90° to 170° and from 170° to 90° to 10°. A semicircular slot separates the protractor from the French curve. Cut-out stencils for six circles range in diameter from 1/8" to 7/16". Also included are two slots for drawing angles of 30° and 45° and templates for an equilateral hexagon and two closed curves. On the curve the object is marked: SP [/] PROTRACTOR – FRENCH CURVE – TRIANGLES – RULER – CIRCLE GAUGES. Between the protractor and scale, the object is marked: MADE IN U.S.A.; 2; STERLING 544. The markings were stamped in black but are wearing off.
Sterling Plastics was operated by George and Mary Staab in Mountainside, N. J., through the late 1960s. It was a division of Borden Chemical Company in the 1970s and 1980s, during which time this object was called the 7-IN-1 Protractor. For other products of Sterling Plastics, see slide rule 1988.0807.01 and adding machine MA.335327. James J. Williams gave this protractor to the Smithsonian.
Reference: Toxic Substances Control Act: Trademarks and Product Names Reported in Conjunction with the Chemical Substance Initial Inventory (Washington, D.C.: United States Environmental Protection Agency, 1979), 90.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1975
maker
Sterling Plastics
ID Number
1998.3104.01
nonaccession number
1998.3104
catalog number
1998.3104.01
This clear plastic semicircular protractor arrived at the Smithsonian in a clear plastic wrapper, which is stored with it.
Description
This clear plastic semicircular protractor arrived at the Smithsonian in a clear plastic wrapper, which is stored with it. Designed for use by schoolchildren, it contains four sets of divisions, three to single degrees and the innermost one to ten degrees.
The outer two divisions are marked by tens for reading left-opening angles, from 0° to 180°. The inner two divisions are marked by tens for reading right-opening angles, from 170° to 0°. A semicircular slot separates the two scales.
The interior of the protractor is open. A scale along the bottom edge of the opening is divided to millimeters and marked by centimeter from 0 to 10. The outer bottom edge of the protractor is divided to sixteenths of an inch and is marked by inches from 1 to 6. The corners are slightly rounded.
The object bears several marks along its diameter edge: PAT. [/] PENDING; SAFE-T TM [/] PRORUCTS [sic] Inc.; Angles Opening Left (>) [/] Use Upper Scale; VIEW-THRU TM [/] SAFE-T PLASTIC TM [/] #45780; Angles Opening Right (<) [/] Use Lower Scale; La Grange, IL [/] 60525-0692.
Reference: SAFE-T Products, Inc., Innovative Safe Drawing and Measuring Instruments, about 1998. According to this catalog, these protractors sold individually for 75 cents. In 2006, the company became a subsidiary of A. Daigger & Company and its name changed to Classroom Products Warehouse.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1998
maker
Safe-T Products, Inc.
ID Number
1998.0033.02
catalog number
1998.0033.02
accession number
1998.0033
This oversized white plastic semicircular protractor may be used at a chalkboard or whiteboard. A smaller semicircle is cut out of the protractor's interior. Three curved grooves form a third semicircle between these two semicircles.
Description
This oversized white plastic semicircular protractor may be used at a chalkboard or whiteboard. A smaller semicircle is cut out of the protractor's interior. Three curved grooves form a third semicircle between these two semicircles. The protractor is divided by single degrees and in three rows of divisions. It is marked by tens from 0° to 180° (left to right) and from 180° to 0° (right to left).
An oversized ruler, or scale of equal parts, divided to mm and marked by single cm from 1 to 10, is on the diameter of the innermost semicircle. A notch for the origin point of the protractor is at the center of this edge. Another scale of equal parts, divided by 16ths of an inch and marked by ones from 1 to 6, is along the outer lower edge.
The protractor is marked: Angles Opening Left (>) Use Upper Scale; Angles Opening Right (<) Use Lower Scale (/) SAFE-T PROTRACTOR® #45779. A recycling logo for plastic type 6 appears in the lower right corner. The protractor retailed for approximately $13 in 2011.
See also ID numbers 1998.0033.02 and 1999.0117.02.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 2000
Associated Date
2000
Associated Name
Extra Measures, Inc.
maker
Safe-T Products, Inc.
ID Number
2000.0160.03
accession number
2000.0160
catalog number
2000.0160.03

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