In the event of a government shutdown, American History will remain OPEN through at least Saturday, October 7, by using prior year funds. Visit for updates.

Cycloids, Kinematic Model by Martin Schilling, series 24, model 7, number 335

Cycloids, Kinematic Model by Martin Schilling, series 24, model 7, number 335

<< >>
Usage conditions apply
Around 1900, American mathematicians introduced ideas to their students using physical models like this one. This model is the seventh in a series of kinematic models sold by the German firm of Schilling to show a mechanical method for generating mathematical curves.
The cycloid solves the 17th-century problem posed by Swiss mathematician Johann Bernoulli known as the brachistochrone problem. This problem asks for the shape of the curve of fastest decent: the path that a ball would travel the fastest along under the influence of gravity.
The cycloids are drawn by tracing the location of a point on the radius of a circle or its extension as the circle rolls along a straight line. Cycloids are members of the family of curves known as trochoids, curves that are generated by tracing the motion of a point on the radius of a circle as it rolls along another curve. The curve generated by a point on the circumference of the rolling circle is called an epicycloid, and a ball rolling on this curve (inverted) would travel faster than on any other path (the brachistochrone problem). Points either inside or outside the rolling circle generate curves called epitrochoids. The cycloid also solves the tautochrone problem, a curve for which a ball placed anywhere on the curve will reach the bottom under gravity in the same amount of time.
An example of the application of the cycloid as a solution of the tautochrone problem is the pendulum clock designed by Dutch physicist Christopher Huygens. As the width of the swing of the pendulum decreases over time due to friction and air resistance, the time of the swing remains constant. Also, cycloidal curves are used in the shaping of gear teeth to reduce torque and improve efficiency.
This model consists of a toothed metal disc linked to a bar that is toothed along one edge. A radius of the circle extending away from the bar has a place for a pin inside the circumference, a pin on the circumference, and a pin outside the circle. Rotating a crank below the baseplate of the model moves the circle along the edge of the bar, generating a curve above each point. The curves are indicated on the glass overlay of the mechanism. The curve generated by the point on the circumference of the circle is an epicycloid, depicted in blue on the glass; that generated by the point outside the circle is a prolate (from the Latin to elongate) cycloid, depicted in orange; and that generated by the point inside the circle is a curtate (from the Latin to shorten) cycloid, depicted in green. The German title of this model it: Erzeugung von Cycloiden (to produce cycloids).
Schilling, Martin, Catalog Mathematischer Modelle für den höheren mathatischen Unterricht, Halle a.s., Germany, 1911, pp 56-57. Series 24, group II, model 7.
Online demo at Wofram Mathworld:
Currently not on view
Object Name
geometric model
date made
ca 1900
Schilling, Martin
place made
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
glass (overall material)
paper (overall material)
leather (overall material)
overall: 5.8 cm x 27 cm x 27 cm; 2 9/32 in x 10 5/8 in x 10 5/8 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of the Department of Mathematics, The University of Michigan
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Kinematic Models
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

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.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.

Note: Comment submission is temporarily unavailable while we make improvements to the site. We apologize for the interruption. If you have a question relating to the museum's collections, please first check our Collections FAQ. If you require a personal response, please use our Contact page.