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Established in 1879, the U.S. Geological Survey tested distance measurers to see which best suited their purposes. Those that failed muster were sent to the Smithsonian in 1907. This bell odometer—so-called because a bell rings for every revolution of the wheel—is one of those instruments. The “S. H. DAVIS & CO. / BOSTON, MASS. U.S.A.” inscription on the dial refers to a hardware store that advertised this type of instrument.
The form came on the market in 1893. Originally made for horse-drawn vehicles, it was later adapted for automobiles. The Bell Odometer Works began in Washington, D.C., and later moved to Oakmont, Pa.
Ref: “The Improved Bell Odometer,” Scientific American 72 (1895): 405.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
around 1900
Bell Odometer Works
overall: 2 in x 2 13/16 in x 3 1/2 in x 2 3/8 in; 5.08 cm x 7.14375 cm x 8.89 cm x 6.0325 cm
overall: 3 7/16 in x 2 13/16 in x 2 in; 8.73125 cm x 7.14375 cm x 5.08 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
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Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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