Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center

Physical Sciences Collection - Surveying and Geodesy

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Wing Chain

Catalogue number:

33 feet (2 poles) long


In 1664, an English mathematical practitioner named Vincent Wing described a 66 foot (or 4 pole) surveyor's chain with 80 links. With this design, two links equal one-tenth of a pole, and 80 chains equal one mile. Wing's chain was known in America, but not associated with his name. John Gummere referred to a 2 pole chain of this sort in the 1833 and later editions of his popular Treatise on Surveying, noting that measures taken with it were "usually expressed in perches and tenths." In the 1870s, W. & L. E. Gurley referred to a chain of this sort as a Pennsylvania Chain, and offered examples with either 40 or 80 links. This example is made of iron wire, with handles at either end and brass tallies every 10 links. It is associated with the vernier compass marked "F. Heiseley Fredk: town" in the Museum collection.

Ref: Francois D. Bud Uzes, "David Rittenhouse. Colonial Surveyor and Instrument Maker," Rittenhouse 5 (1990): 1-16.

Further Information:

Surveyor's Chain