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Physical Sciences Collection - Surveying and Geodesy

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Tape (Chesterman) - click to enlarge

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Tape (Chesterman)

Catalogue number:


4.5 inches diameter; 1.25 inches thick; tape .375 inches wide; 100 feet long


This steel tape is graduated in 100ths of a foot on one side, and links and poles on the other. There are joints every 20 feet. The case is leather with a brass handle. The signature refers to James Chesterman (1795-1867), a metal worker in Sheffield, England. In 1821 Chesterman received a British patent for a method of using a spring to rewind measuring tapes automatically. In 1842 Chesterman and James Bottom patented a woven cloth tape that incorporated strands of wire. Chesterman's 1853 patented process for heat treating long strips of steel led to the manufacture of steel tapes that remained virtually unchanged for over 50 years. Scientific American called attention to Chesterman & Co. in 1869, noting that their patent steel tape "is about the most unique thing of the kind we have ever seen," and mentioning its portability, neatness, and exact measuring capability. W. & L. E. Gurley offered Chesterman steel tapes as early as 1871, describing them as "made of a thin ribbon of steel, which is jointed at intervals, and wound up in a leathern case, having a folding handle." Gurley went on to say that these tapes were the best on the market, but at $17, their "great cost" prevented their general use. Gurley also sold Chesterman tapes of cloth reinforced with wire; these cost but $5.25.

Ref: "Steel Measuring Tapes," Scientific American 21 (1869): 216.

W. & L. E. Gurley, Manual of the Principal Instruments Used in American Engineering and Surveying (Troy, N.Y., 1871), p. 132, and price list.

James Chesterman & Co., Chesterman's Patent Measures, Engineers' Tools, &c. (Sheffield, n.d.), pp. 16-17.

Douglas J. Hallam, The First 200 Years. A Short History of Rabone Chesterman Limited (1984).

Further Information:

Surveyor's Tape