The History of Measurement Tools - Part II

November 29, 2018

the history of tools

The Curious History of Measurement Tools: From Ivory to Women's Fashion

In last week’s blog titled, The History of Measurement Tools - Part I, we discussed that measurements and more specifically, units of length, were not always addressed with tape measures, rulers or yard sticks. At different points of history, length was determined by body parts. 

Early measurement devices were strips of leather or pieces of wood with markings added to them. Early folding rulers were also made of wood, but wood dimensions could change with moisture absorption.

Ivory was used as it was more stable, but it had a checkered history, especially as to how it was harvested. 

The Hoop Skirt Created the Steel Tape Rule?

Steel seemed like a good choice and worked for small rulers and yardsticks, but it wasn’t until a change in women’s fashion in the early 1800’s that led James Chesterman of Sheffield, England to patent the first steel tape measure. That change was the decline of the crinoline hoop skirt, which left Mr. Chesterman with a surplus of metal tape that his company sold to dress makers to hold the shape of the hoop skirt. In order to use up this surplus, Chesterman, put graduated marks on very long steel tapes and marketed them to surveyors as a lightweight alternative to the bulky surveyors’ chains in common use. His patent was granted in Britain in 1829. 

In 1864 the Americans get in on the tape measure game with the invention of a tape measure with a manual stop or release button, by William H. Bangs, Jr. of New Haven, Connecticut. Mr. Bangs' innovative design allowed for the tape to be locked in any desired position, and not retract into the case until a button was released.

Even with these inventions in the early and mid 1800’s, most carpenters continued to use wooden folding rulers. This was because they were less expensive and had a degree of standout based on their stiff wood construction.

The Father of Modern Tape Measures 

The steel tape measure, as we know it, finally started to take shape with the inventions of Hiram A Farrand of Merchantville, NJ and then Berlin, New Hampshire. Mr. Farrand developed the manufacturing process to allow the steel tape measure blade to go from a coil, to straight section, with enough stiffness to meet or exceed the standout of the folding wooden rule. Mr. Farrand’s patents span from 1922 to 1933. Eventually his designs were sold to the Stanley Works and become the standard made by tool companies for most pocket tape measures on the market to this day.

Defiance Tools Joins The Game

Here at Defiance Tools we build on that history of measurement tools as we launched our first tape rule in the Defiance Tools 16’/5m Compact Tape Measure. This super compact tape measure is small enough to fit in the palm or your hand and, due to it’s 1 inch wide nylon coated blade, still gives you 8’ of standout. We think Mr. Farrand would approve. What do you think? 

~Richard Coulcher, Co-Founder of Defiance Tools




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