The Origins of Electrical Measuring Instruments
-- Researching the Weston Archive in the Van Houten Library of New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) --
by Eiju Matsumoto


Edward Weston (1850 - 1936) was one of the most significant persons in the history of electrical measuring instruments. In the field of measurement, he developed three important components: the Standard Cell, the Manganin resistor and the electrical indicating instrument. The New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, NJ has established an archive in honor of Edward Weston and his work.

Newark is located south of New York across the Hudson River. It was settled by Connecticut Puritans in 1666, and was one of the first areas to be urbanized in the United States, following Boston and New York on the East Coast. From the late-19th to early-20th century, Newark became a major hub for such prosperous industries as leather, chemical fertilizers, metals, jewels and electrical appliances.

A number of factories and laboratories run by well-known inventors and entrepreneurs were established in Newark. One example is Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931) who manufactured stock tickers and also built a large-scale laboratory in the suburb, West Orange. Newark is also known as the place where John Wesley Hyatt (1837 - 1920) invented the synthetic plastic resin "celluloid" that replaced the ivory used to make billiard balls.

Weston was both - an inventor and an entrepreneur. As an inventor, he acquired more than 200 patents from the time direct-current generators and arc lamps emerged. He also set up a number of companies, the most successful of which seemed to be the Weston Electrical Instrument Company.

The New Jersey Institute of Technology began as a technical college in 1881, and then later, in 1930, became a university of engineering. Weston was one of the founders of this institution (Figure 1). Following Weston's death in 1936, the bereaved members of his family donated items and literature relating to Weston's work, to the institute. These relics are now stored in archives in the Van Houten Library. The exhibition room of the library contains 246 items such as direct-current generators and electric bulbs. In addition, 200 rare books and 60 boxes of old notebooks, patent documents and newspaper clippings, as well as 500 sheets of drawings, are all stored in a special room for treasures (rare archives).


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Figure 1: Everhardt Hall(the oldest building on the premises and now used as the Executive Administration Office)

Weston can be said to have 'perfected' the prototype for modern-day precision electrical-measuring instruments in the late 19th century. He achieved this by employing permanent magnets and flat spiral springs to produce a controlling force in electrical measuring instruments; by using scale plates with a mirror and a knife-edge pointer to obtain precision readings; and by developing the Pivot and Jewel bearings based on bearings used in clocks
(Figure 2).


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Figure 2: Weston's Portable Instrument
- A laboratory instrument having 0.2 to 0.5% accuracy (1881), whose mechanism has been adopted in modern electrical-measuring instruments.

The sixty boxes of documents and the containers of drawings in the rare archives hold design notebooks and blueprints produced in the late-19th to early-20th century. These documents are priceless, containing design ideas and calculations as well as experimental and measured values. The rare archive room is open to anybody doing research in this area and is a great place to start learning about the origins and history of electrical measuring instruments in America (Figure 3).


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Figure 3: Relics of Weston's work (and Edward Weston on the right)
The 60 shelved boxes contain priceless documents that date back 100 years.

Note: Some results of the research on the Weston Archive are summarized in the following document.
Matsumoto, E. "Searching for the Origin of Diagonal Scaling which was the Laboratory Standard Meter Scale" Yokogawa Technical Report, English Edition, No. 17 (1993): pp. 58-65.