The ability to measure accurately, and thus obtain a definite and positive knowledge, instead of a general and indefinite knowledge of form, relation, distance, and the other phenomena of the existing condition of things in which we are placed, constitutes the difference between scientific knowledge and ordinary knowledge. By some philologists our term man is traced to a derivation from the Aryan root-word ma, to measure. Whether this derivation is true or not, certain it is that the most accurate and comprehensive definition of man, as classified at the head of the organic evolution of intelligence upon this planet, is that of a measurer, and, as symbols of his true domination of the world, a rule and a pair of scales would be much fitter and more expressive of his glory than a crown and a sceptre.
The use of the rule is so absolutely necessary in almost every mechanical or artistic pursuit, that the consumption is, of course, very great, and the manufacture is consequently a very important one. Rules are generally made of boxwood or of ivory, and are mounted and tipped with brass or silver. Boxwood is most extensively used, both on account of its being more plentiful than ivory, and also because it is less liable to expand and contract by variations of the temperature. This last consideration is the most important, since the accuracy of the rule depends upon the constancy with which it marks the fixed standard for lineal measurement.
The boxwood used by the chief manufacturers of rules grows in Turkey and Southern Russia. The forests in which it is produced are under the control of the respective governments, and are farmed out, or leased to special contractors, who pay for the privilege by a certain percentage of the income from the sale of their produce. The forests within the jurisdiction of Russia are leased by the government of that country to two persons, who have full control of the cutting and disposition of the boxwood. These forests occupy mountain ranges for the most part. The boxwood is cut, and after a suitable time brought down from the mountains to the market or depot for sale, on the backs of mules.
The tree producing boxwood, known botanically as the buxus, whence our name for it, is small in size, the average diameter of the logs which reach this country being from six to seven inches, and never more than fifteen. The boxwood imported by our manufacturers is now brought directly from the depots in Russia and Turkey to New York and Boston, by the way of Smyrna. Formerly it was taken to Liverpool, and there transshipped to this country. Boxwood is sold by weight, the prices varying from thirty to one hundred and fifty dollars a ton, the value depending upon the texture, color, and straightness of the grain; the color being an important consideration. The deeper the golden tint of the wood, the more valuable it is for rules.
The manufacture of rules is extensively carried on in the United States, and from its extent, and the multiplicity of interests which depend in a greater or less degree upon its accuracy, by which their own is regulated, it may be justly classed as one of the great industries of the land. The leading manufactory of the United States is that of Stephens and Company, at Riverton, Litchfield County, Connecticut.
Their factory is situated on the Tunxis, a small river, which is one of the chief branches of the Farmington River, and which at this spot supplies a good water-power. The establishment of Stephens and Company has mainly grown up under the fostering care of Mr. DeLoss H. Stephens, who unites with the character of an able and indefatigable business man the genius of a first-class practical inventor, and who, by machinery of his own invention, has greatly promoted the manufacture of rules in this country.
The most important inventions which Mr. Stephens has made have been wisely kept within the knowledge of Stephens and Company, and secured to their special control, not by letters patent, but by private use. By the aid of these machines, and improvements in others, which have been secured in the same way, Messrs. Stephens and Company have been enabled to manufacture the best quality of rules in the market, at less cost than many of their competitors have been able to. Some of Mr. Stephens’s inventions have, however, been patented.
By the lessening of the cost of production brought about by the use of their machinery, Messrs. Stephens and Company are enabled to give the purchasers of their rules more perfect and more conscientiously made wares at lower prices than their competitors can well afford, and thus they have risen to their eminence in this branch of manufacture.
The making of rules is a nice art, and quite interesting in its details. The boxwood logs, on their arrival at the factory, are first “blocked up,” or sawed into proper lengths or sections, which are then quartered, or split into four minor sections, which are then slabbed or cut into pieces about the width of a rule. These slabs are then slit into pieces about an eighth of an inch in thickness. The next process is to “dress off,” or gauge, each piece as to its broader surfaces, or sides, and its edges, into the required shape and size. This is done rapidly and perfectly by an automatic machine of ingenious contrivance.
The “stuff,” as the pieces of boxwood are called, is next fitted or adjusted to the kind of joints to which the pieces are finally to be united. These joints are respectively called “head joints” and “middle joints.” The next step is to “tip” the boxwood pieces, that is, to fit the brass or silver caps upon their ends; brass being chiefly used for mounting the boxwood rules, and German silver, or real silver, for the ivory rules. Pure silver mountings are too expensive for the general demand; though on the occasion of our visit to the factory of Stephens and Company we saw several splendid ivory combination rules made to the order of Governor Claflin of Massachusetts, and other “republican sovereigns,” which were mounted with pure silver.
The brass used in the manufacture of rules is brought to the factory from the rolling-mills, in sheets prepared for the purpose, and is slit by circular shears and saws into proper sizes, and then cut with dies into the forms needed for the construction of the joints, caps, bindings, etc., which are used in the rules. The joints of the rules made by Messrs. Stephens and Company are, by peculiar machinery, ” scraped,” or trimmed; this process doing away with the slower one of filing, milling, etc., and leaving the work more perfect. The machine which does this is the invention of Mr. DeLoss H. Stephens, and is patented.
Uniting the several pieces which form the common joint is done in this factory by a “driving machine,” which performs this work at least one hundred per cent, more expeditiously than the hand method of driving which formerly prevailed. The “rolls,” or collets, or the cylindrical parts of the rule joints, or shoulders over which the jointed parts of the rule turn, are made here by an ingenious automatic machine, with a great saving of labor and material. Everything in the establishment, even to the cutting of the pins, of which about twenty enter into the construction of a plain rule and forty into that of a bound rule, is done by machinery instead of by hand, as was formerly the practice. The heading of the rivets and the marking out of the “arches” to receive the joint-caps are also done by machinery.
After the work is put together and made ready for undergoing the process of “graduating,” it is taken to the graduating room, where the lineal gauging is performed. The machines by which the surface of the rules is marked into inches and parts of inches are automatic in their operation, and quite complicated in their construction, and perform their work with more than human accuracy, and with almost living intelligence. These machines are the inventions of Mr. DeLoss H. Stephens, and alone would be enough to secure for him a place among the first scientific mechanical inventors of his time. Their work is neat, delicate, perfect, and rapidly performed. While these machines are necessarily so complicated in their construction, yet they are so simple in their action that they can be safely left to be operated by a boy.
After the rules are completed, they are then thoroughly inspected, any blemish or fault, however slight or trivial, condemning them. Stephens and Company manufacture over one hundred different varieties of rules, which are in demand all over the United States, in Australia, South America, and in Europe also.
Horace Greeley et al.
The Great Industries of the United States – 1872