Artifact of the Month: Slide rule, 1916

Sam Cooke was just being clever when he sang “…don’t know what a slide rule is for.”

I, on the other hand, genuinely don’t know. But that won’t stop me from declaring a 1916 slide rule to be November’s Artifact of the Month.

slide rule

slide rule

slide rule

UNC alumnus Bill Higgins generously donated this artifact as part of a collection of student memorabilia that belonged to his father, Charles W. Higgins, UNC Class of 1917.

yearbook scan
Charles W. Higgins in the 1917 UNC yearbook

The rule’s manufacturer, Keuffel & Esser Co., operated out of Hoboken, New Jersey and sold slide rules from 1886 to 1976, according to The International Slide Rule Museum.

slide rule

This version, model 4053 3, features a conversion table on the back. Like the rule itself, many of its conversions bear little relevance to life in 2013.

slide rule

slide rule

The International Slide Rule Museum tells us that in 1967, Keuffel & Esser Co. commissioned a study of the future, predicting that Americans in 2067 would live in domed cities and watch 3D television. “Unfortunately for the company, the report failed to predict that slide rules would be obsolete in less than ten years, replaced by the pocket calculator.”

Still, it’s easy to believe that Charles Higgins, a Mathematical Club member, probably made good use of this tool in 1916. And while we in the NCC Gallery can’t fully appreciate its mathematical value, we certainly do appreciate its historical value.

‘Is the South the Best Home for the Negro?’

“Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore [in “Gender and Jim Crow”] recounts a debate on a summer night in 1901 in Charlotte, North Carolina, between two well-educated young women, Addie Sagers and Laura Arnold, on the topic ‘Is the South the Best Home for the Negro?’

“Sagers argued against going North, where, she said, the only jobs open to blacks were ‘bell boy, waiter, cook or house maid,’ and where Northern unions excluded blacks from their ranks. Arnold, her debate opponent, railed against the violence, segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks in the South. She agreed that ‘the unknown was frightening,’ but added, ‘if the Puritans could cross the oceans in small boats, surely North Carolina’s African-Americans could board northbound trains.’

“Gilmore notes that Arnold’s ‘received more points than any other speech that night.’ Two weeks later, Arnold ‘took her own advice and moved to Washington, D.C.’ ”

— From “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson (2010)