The History of Tape Measure

The invention of tape measures has a very unusual history. Sometimes you never know, two completely different things which may have no connection can have a connection. The invention leads back to the time where the hoop skirts were gaining a lot of attention in the fashion industry.

The tape measure is an end product of the “flat wire” that was used by the flat-wire makers in the fashion industry in order to make gorgeous hoop skirts. The hoops skirts required a lot of flat wire to make them fluffy and voluminous. They were used to shape the skirt in the desired shape and they actually made the skirts blossom.

James Chesterman in 1829, was the first flat-wire maker who got the patent for steel tape measure in Britain. He had the skill to make the wire stronger and allowed it to be produced in longer lengths. As they say, that fashion fades away, the hoop skirts fell out of fashion. Chesterman was left with a lot of flat wire but it had no use now. However, Chesterman started making money by selling a steel measuring chain.

He made sure that his useless flat wire is not useless anymore. He had put graduated marks on long chains and worked hard to make it a suitable design. The chain was enclosed in a case and it was used by many. Chester put in an effort to further modify his design and to make it less heavy. Whether they were heavy or not, they were sold for a heavy price because of the unique design and function.

The steal chain measure that was invented in Britain was further modified by another inventor known as Alvin J. Fellows. Fellows belonged to Connecticut and he got the patent for “spring click tape measure” on July 14, 1868.

His design was very famous because of its unique features. The spring click was a remarkable modification in the previously designed steal measuring chain because it had the ability to lock the tape measure to the desired length. It didn’t retract on its own but once it was locked, it would allow the user to do the required task while the tape measure stayed in the desired shape. It could be positioned to the desired length.

The spring click was a huge invention in itself because it required recombination of the internal parts of the previously designed steal measuring chain. The steal measuring chain was converted into a spring lock tape measure by Fellows’ but it had components that were not included in the steal measuring chain. Fellows’ creation had “incremental changes”. The spring click tape measure had a case, a spring lock, a lever, and a knob. The case was made to enclose the steal strips and to keep them protected from getting damaged.

Even before the invention of the spring lock tape measure, the carpenters were using folding wooden rulers for all sorts of measurements. The folding wooden rulers were quite popular and they remained popular in use by carpenters even after the invention of the spring lock tape measure. The spring lock tape measures were quite expensive at that time; hence, they didn’t really replace the folding wooden rulers.

In 1895, Justus Roe and Sons were producing tape measures, popular as “Roe Electric Reel Tape Measures”, they basically stamped numbers on the tapes. However, these tape measures had no sign of electrical functioning.

In January 1922, further improvements were made to the spring lock tape measure. Hiram A. Farrand got a patent for a concave-convex tape measure. Farrand and William Wentworth Brown were the first ones to mass-produce tape measures with the help of The Hipolito Company. “Stanley Works” also bought their products.

However, if we talk about the mid-twentieth century, the tape measures had successfully taken over the folding wooden rulers because they became common and less expensive. Due to their lower price, they became very popular and every carpenter had a tape measure in his kit. The spring lock tape measures form the basis of the tape measures that are used today. They are available widely all over the world in the current times and are commonly used by professionals and DIYers.

Sources:

  • https://www.wired.com/2009/07/dayintech-0714/
  • https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-hoop-skirts-led-tape-measures-180963995/
  • http://blogs.toolbarn.com/2014/06/tbt-the-history-of-the-measuring-tape/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tape_measure