July 14: A Tale of Two Tape Measures

 

On July 14, 1868, Alvin Fellows of New Haven, Connecticut received a patent for his spring-loaded, locking tape measure.  While Fellows certainly wasn’t the first to conceive of using demarcated strips of metal tape as a measuring tool, his unique design featured significant improvements over previous tape measures and was the first to resemble the common handyman’s tool found in households around the world today.

The first spring-loaded tape measure had been invented in England in the 1820s, but was far too expensive for the typical American craftsman to afford at the price of $17 (over $400 in 2018 dollars).  With necessity — or in this case, affordability — serving as the mother of invention, a number of American inventors sought to patent their own, more cost-effective versions of the tape measure.  In 1864, just four years before Fellows secured his patent, another Connecticut man became the first American to obtain a patent for a spring-loaded tape measure: William Bangs Jr. of Meriden.  Fellows then improved upon Bangs’ design in two ways: first, by adding a locking mechanism that would hold the measuring tape in place until the user pressed a button to release it, and second, by enclosing the entire tape measure (including the locking mechanism) in an all-in-one compact metal case.  A measurable improvement for toolboxes across America, thanks to a double-dose of Connecticut ingenuity, on this day in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

This Day in Tech: The Tape Measure Clicks In,Wired Magazine

William H. Bangs, Jr. “U.S. Patent 45,372: Improvement in Spring Tape-Measures,” Google Patents database

Alvin J. Fellows, “U.S. Patent 79,965: Tape Measure,” Google Patents database