Scanning Around With Gene: The Amazing Story of Measurement

Lately I’ve been accumulating various comic-book stories of big industry with titles such as “Rubber, a Wonder Story,” and “The Story of Shoes Through the Ages.” These were once popular ways for large companies to educate kids (and adults) on the history of an industry, and were often distributed free to schools. Of course in addition to a history of rubber production or shoes, there was always a message about the sponsoring company &#8212 an easy way to build brand awareness with the young.

The first I’m choosing to highlight here is “The Amazing Story of Measurement” from the tool company Lufkin, still today a leader in precision measurement tools. The booklet is from 1949, although the company was established in 1869 in Cleveland, Ohio. There is no artist credit, although I can barely make out a signature, E.L. Stoner, on one of the drawings. Click on any image for a larger version.

As you might imagine, the art of measuring goes back a ways &#8212 the booklet begins with early cave men who used sticks and body parts to measure out various things.

And of course we have the Egyptians to thank for many early measurement standards &#8212 the pyramids alone required quite a bit of precision.

It wasn’t until the 16th century that the rod was established as the length of the left feet of the first 16 men out of church on a certain Sunday. Why there weren’t better standards the booklet does not explain &#8212 it doesn’t seem like it would have been that hard to make one master measurement tool and then duplicate it for consistency.

And like so many things, measurements became somewhat political and very regional.

Obviously this diversity of standards lead to a lot of confusion and it took the British to promote consistency and enforce it throughout its empire.

But there were still a lot of odd measurement standards throughout the world.

And politics continued to play a pivotal role in the development of measuring standards.

A conflict between the British system (which was exported to America) and the more common metric decimal system used elsewhere, is still a problem today. As early as 1866 an effort was made to switch America to the metric system, without success. We’re still struggling with that switch.

We learn through the story of Lufkin just how important precision measurement is to our lives and our industries. Everything from airplanes to railroad engines requires the use of accurate measuring tools.

The comic book format is an interesting way to tell the story of an industry, though it does tend to trivialize things a bit and historical accuracy may be a little shaky. But in an era where schoolbooks are so expensive and schools so short of cash, maybe it’s time for more industries to step up once again and provide free propaganda with an educational bent. Is there an app for that?

Posted on: April 27, 2012

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. After a decade in commercial typesetting and design services, he chronicled the desktop-publishing revolution from his post as publisher and president of Publish magazine. With nine international editions, Publish became the leading global resource on the use of digital technology for print and Web production. Gable served on the operational boards of International Data Group's PCWorld, The Web and PC Games magazines and was earlier publisher of Sporting Times magazine. During his tenure at Ziff-Davis Gable was on the executive team responsible for major business events such as Comdex, Networld+Interop and JavaOne. As president of Seybold Seminars and publisher of The Seybold Report, Gable managed a global slate of conferences, trade shows and other graphic-arts educational products. During his leadership Seybold events featured prominent speakers such as Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, Christie Hefner, president of Playboy Enterprises, Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe Systems, and Daniel Carp, CEO of Eastman Kodak. Gable has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. His clients have included A-list brands in technology and financial services. Gable's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on Follow Gene on Twitter

5 Comments on Scanning Around With Gene: The Amazing Story of Measurement

  1. Mr. Stoner is the guy in the middle frame at the top, and he turns up later in the comic.

    Sorry to see the spam creep in.

  2. Great article. I remember in the 70’s when I was in elementary school (in the US)….they told us the Metric system was going to completely replace our current system. I kinda wish it did…much easier working with a base 10 system.

  3. Great article. I remember in the 70’s when I was in elementary school (in the US)….they told us the Metric system was going to completely replace our current system. I kinda wish it did…much easier working with a base 10 system.

  4. Years ago (90’s) I used to design magazines and programs related to the Track and Field Sport. The results were presented to me in both the British and Metric systems. When I tried to include the Metric measurements I was told to get rid of that “Euro Commie Crap” and the STUPIDS prevailed.

  5. Hi, Gene,
    The artist’s name is E.C. (Elmer Cecil) Stoner. A lot can be learned about him here:

    I’m 65 and relate very much to the eras you favor.

    Peace, Jim (|:{>

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.