Fraction Balls Patented in 1895 by Emoline Wilcox Ketchum

Fraction Balls Patented in 1895 by Emoline Wilcox Ketchum

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This tool for teaching children about fractions was designed by Emoline Wilcox Ketchum (1850-1909) of Providence, Rhode Island, who patented it in 1895. The patent was assigned the number 547,217. It consists of nine wooden “fraction balls,” spheres divided into pieces of various sizes, including one-half, one-third, one-fifth, and one-eighteenth. The fractional value of each piece is painted on the piece in black and each ball has a groove in which to use an elastic band (according to patent specifications) or a ribbon to tie a band around the ball to hold the pieces together. The balls are in nine separate compartments within a wooden box which has a removable sliding top and a faded tan label on the front. The label on the box reads: FRACTION BALLS / FOR SCHOOL USE / (Patent Applied For.) / E. KETCHUM PROVIDENCE, R.I. Described as an educational appliance, fraction balls were advertised for sale in Teacher's World for $3.50 and the Popular Educator Journal for $2.00. The instruction pamphlet was not acquired with the object.
Emoline Ketchum was a graduate of the Pittsburgh Female College and attended the Women’s College of Brown University as a special student form 1892 until 1895. She was the daughter of Annie E. Wilcox and physcian Alasan W. Wilcox, and the wife of Edgar Ketchum.
Currently not on view
Object Name
fraction balls
Object Type
educational toys
date made
place made
United States: Rhode Island, Providence
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
paper (overall material)
ink (overall material)
overall: 10.8 cm x 29.5 cm x 29.5 cm; 4 1/4 in x 11 5/8 in x 11 5/8 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
patent number
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Education
Women Teaching Math
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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