The slide rule is the iconic instrument of the engineering profession. From the mid-19th century through the 1970s, every significant human-built structure has involved its use. Invented at the time of the Mayflower, the “modern” slide rule (sometimes called the “Mannheim Rule”) dates to 1850, just a decade before MIT was founded. In the 19th century, the popularity of the slide rule grew along with the engineering profession, which needed a reliable means of quickly and accurately completing tedious but essential calculations. The ubiquitous engineer’s rule was the Log Log Duplex Decitrig.
As described in Keuffel and Esser’s brochure, How to Choose a Slide Rule: “It has every scale you need for riding through a tough engineering course with a minimum of headaches. It will serve you well throughout the years to come when you graduate and take your place in the profession. For real knock-down-and-drag-out, math-eating, fire-breathing engineering, there isn’t another slide rule in the world that can touch it.”
Exhibited: Classroom Demonstration Slide Rule, Pickett N500-ES, Pickett & Eckel, Inc., c. 1964.
Photo: Michael Cardinali for MIT Museum.