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Micrometer History

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The Early Period

Measurement started as early as 5000 years ago when the Egyptians built the Pyramids. The principle of screw threads was used by the Greeks to raise water from a lower to a higher level. The idea of using these same threads for measurement did not exist then. It was during the 17th century when threads were utilised to measure the length of objects. In 1638, the English astronomer W. Gascoigne used the principle of threads to measure the distance of stars. Fine-adjusting his telescope by screw threads, he measured the stars in the nightly sky. However in this method, he did not use threads to directly measure the objects. Nevertheless, his method of measuring distances by thread displacement was similar to modern methods.

In the following year, he invented a measuring gauge called the "Caliper Micrometer". The system comprised of a rotating handle attached to the end of a threaded rod connected to a movable jaw. A reading was achieved by counting the revolutions of the handle against an attached disc. The disc divided one rotation into 10 equal parts, thus he could measure the distance covered by the moving jaw with accuracy.

In the early part of the 19th century, Sir Henry Maudslay was known as “The Producer of Best Machine Tools“ in London. His screw-cutting lathe invented circa 1800 was said to be the origin of modern Machine Tools. Moreover, he produced a dedicated machine to mass manufacture pulleys used in sailing ships. He also conceived the idea of modern machine shops, and provided input for the development of surface grinders and milling machines. He was well respected in England and was called the "Father of Machine Tools". In the field of machine tools, Maudslay's name is held in high regard, second only to Leonardo da Vinci.

Maudslay also left his mark in measuring instruments. His tabletop micrometer, called "Lord Chancellor", was the most precise of that day and considered as the beginning of precision measuring instruments. It was a brass four-legged table-top device about 40cm long, and featured a pair of blocks to sandwich objects. Below the saddle was an opening, and to its edge were 1/10000 inch graduations. It was so precise that it was retested years later in 1918 and was still found to be accurate.

 

The Bronze Age

Today's standard Micrometer features a "U" - shaped frame and one handed operation. Many manufacturers share this common micrometer design. The origin of this design can be traced back to the French inventor J. Palmer who received his patent in 1848. It was called the “System Palmer”. As stated earlier, using screw threads for measuring linear distances has its origin in Gascoigne's invention in 1638. Essentially, Palmer used the same principle in his compact hand- held micrometer. However, his design was more advanced and marked the beginning of modern micrometers. Palmer's contribution was immeasurable in the history of the micrometer. Modern micrometers closely follow the System Palmer's basic design of a "U"-shaped frame, thimble, sleeve, spindle, anvil, etc. The reading edge of the thimble was slightly tapered down to meet the graduations on the sleeve. The circumference of the thimble was divided into 20 equal parts, thus providing accuracy of up to 0.05mm. Brown and Sharpe of B&S Co. visited the International Exposition in Paris in 1867. It was there that they both witnessed the System Palmer for the first time and made the decision to bring it back to America. This encounter in Paris led to a successful introduction of micrometers across the Atlantic.

 

The Rise Of Industry

In Japan, the aspiration to become a "nation of power and technology" emerged during the Meiji period. This spirit was further enforced during the Taisho and Showa periods that followed. Consistent with this direction, the Japanese government also helped bring advanced foreign technologies into Japan, supporting the growth of its domestic industries. The Army, Navy and Air Force, together with the Rail- road Ministry also pushed industrialization in Japan. With this as a backdrop, a move to create domestic companies dealing in advanced industries such as machine tools and measuring instruments start-ed. To help in this process, government organizations helped import products from overseas and assisted in creating prototypes. With this support, domestic manufacturers in Japan were ready to produce products themselves. Such companies started by taking foreign made products and creating their equivalents domestically. In the process, they acquired technical know-how and created production techniques suitable for their own situation. At the time, the domestic industry was dominated by textile production. The production of airplanes and cars for military use only just started. The consumption of tools increased in tandem with the push for industrialization. After the Manchurian Incident, the production of airplanes accelerated which in turn boosted the need for machine tools and measuring instruments of all kinds. 
 

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