Chains and tapes have been used to measure horizontal distances since the
early 17th century, if not before. In England in 1616, Aaron Rathborne mentioned
"the making and use of the Decimal Chayne, used only by myself." This
chain had ten links and measured 1 pole (16.5 feet) overall. In 1620, Edmund
Gunter introduced a chain with 100 links that measured 66 feet (4 poles)
overall. For convenience, surveyors sometimes used a Gunter’s chain with only
50 links, that measured 33 feet (2 poles) overall. In 1664, Vincent Wing
introduced a chain with 80 links, that measured 66 feet overall; shorter
versions with only 40 links were also known; in the late 19th century, a Wing
chain was sometimes known as a Pennsylvania chain. An engineer’s chain has 50
or 100 links, and measures 50 or 100 feet overall; this form came into use in
the 19th century. A vara chain has 50 or 100 links, and measures 10 or 20 varas.
A metric chain has 50 or 100 links, and measures 10 or 20 meters.
James Chesterman of Sheffield, England, patented a cloth tape reinforced with
fine wire in 1843. He began making steel tapes in 1853. Tapes of steel alloys
with a very low coefficients of expansion were introduced around the turn of the
Base bars were used for precise geodetic work.
Ref: David Krehbiel, "Chain, Surveyor’s" in Robert Bud and
Deborah Warner, eds., Instruments of Science (New York and London, 1998),