Torsion Balance

Torsion Balance

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Frederick A. Roeder (1839-1884) was a German chemist who, while studying at the University of Göttingen, learned that the eminent science professors, Carl Friedrich Gauss and Wilhelm Weber, had experimented with torsion wires as substitutes for knife edge pivots in balances. Later, while teaching at the University of Cincinnati, Roeder succeeded in making a torsion balance of the sort that had eluded Gauss and Weber. This instrument, he boasted in 1881, “can be constructed so cheaply that in the near future it will be possible for every druggist to supply himself with scales, closely approaching in sensitiveness those at present used by analytical chemists, this too at a price lower than is now asked for druggists’ scales. Consequently the prescribing physician, or he who dispenses his own medicines, may rest assured that the weight of the ingredients he orders can, with ordinary care, be determined with an exactitude at present impossible.”
Roeder’s work caught the attention of Alfred Springer (1854-1946), a Cincinnati native with a chemistry Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg, whose prosperous family made flavors for food and beverages. The two men established the Torsion Balance and Scale Co. in 1882. This became the U.S. Torsion Balance Co. & Scale Co. in 1886, the Springer Torsion Balance Co. in 1887, and the Torsion Balance Co. in 1908. In 1891, the Committee on Science and the Arts of the Franklin Institute awarded the John Scott Legacy Premium and Medal to Roeder and Springer for their invention of the torsion balance.
The inscription on the base of this small and very early example reads “TORSION BALANCE.” That on a tag reads “THE U.S. TORSION BALANCE & SCALE CO. / STYLE 270 NEW YORK NO. 316 / PATENTED AUG. 15, 1882.” This style was introduced in August 1886 and, with slight modifications, remained in production for some time.
Ref: “A New Chemical Balance,” The Cincinnati Lancet and Clinic (Feb. 12, 1881): 162-163.
Frederick A. Roeder, “Beam Scale,” U.S. Patent 262,905 (August 15, 1882), one half assigned to Alfred Springer.
Frederick A. Roeder, “Platform Scale,” U.S. Patent 262,906 (August 15, 1882), one half assigned to Alfred Springer.
William Kent, “The Torsion Balance,” Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 6 (1885): 636-654.
Currently not on view
Object Name
torsion balance
Object Type
date made
United States Torsion Balance Co.
place made
United States: New York, New York City
Associated Place
United States: New Jersey
overall: 4 1/2 in x 10 in x 5 in; 11.43 cm x 25.4 cm x 12.7 cm
overall: 5 3/4 in x 10 1/2 in x 4 1/2 in; 14.605 cm x 26.67 cm x 11.43 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Weights & Measures
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Medicine and Science: Chemistry
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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