The Keuffel and Esser Company, USA, founded in 1884, sold slide rules starting in 1886 and began manufacturing their own rules in 1891. They were the first U.S. company to manufacture slide rules, and continued doing so until 1976. Early in their production history the company began to produce a less expensive rule for students, or “beginners”, as first shown in their 1897 catalog. A fine chronology of their Beginner’s rules can be found at the web site maintained by Clark McCoy where he and Michael O’Leary have documented much of K&E’s history. Further information on the Beginner’s rules can be found in a 1995 article in the Journal of the Oughtred Society by Babcock.18
The Collection contains a variety of K&E Beginner’s Rules that nicely illustrates the development of the line over time, consistent with the time line put together by McCoy. The early model number was “1749”, but was changed to “4058” which lasted for over six decades. A newer all-plastic model with more scales – the “4158” and “68 1892”, also labeled “K12 Prep” – replaced the 4058 line in 1961 until about 1972.
The time line below is reproduced from the McCoy site, where the remarks have been generated from the information found in the K&E catalogs obtained by the authors. As noted by McCoy, “Exact timing is not possible because of the time between catalogs.” The dates below refer to the dates of K&E catalogs. Images of relevant items from the Collection are interspersed:
1897 - The 1749-1 model number was first shown and referred to as the “Student’s Slide Rule” in the K&E catalog. It is described as having a white paper face with printing on it. It had a celluloid cursor with a metal frame around it.
1901 - The 1749-1 model number was changed to 4058 and the cursor was different.
Here are instructions which came in the box shown in our next example, that were written in 1909 and refer to the Student’s Slide Rule:
- 1915 -The rule had the printing directly on the boxwood frame. The cursor is of bent celluloid with a steel spring.
In the above: Note the model number is on left, there is no \(\pi\) mark, no Patent number, and no L scale label on the slide.
Here, we have \(\pi\) gauge marks on the A/B scales and the 1916 Patent is present. Also the L scale is labeled.
On the above slide rule we see the term “Student’s Slide Rule” on the back, and the table on the back has been changed.
- 1925 - The N4058C was introduced in the catalog. The 4058 was also offered. The N4058C has an all glass cursor with wood blocks. The name was changed from “Student’s Slide Rule” to “Beginner’s Slide Rule”.
- 1930 - The 4058W was introduced in the catalog. The 4058 and N4058C were also available. The 4058W has a white paint type finish that the scales are printed on.
- 1936 - The 4058C replaced the N4058C. We cannot tell if there was an actual change. The 4058 and 4058W were also available.
- 1942 - The 4058D was introduced replacing the 4058 and 4058C. The 4058D had a celluloid cursor like the 1915 version. The 4058W was still offered. The 4059 was not offered.
1943 - The 4058W is the only offering in the K&E catalog.
1944-b - The N4058W is released and the 4058W is not shown in the catalog. The N4058W has the 4053 scale set with a “plain frame Glass Indicator”.
- 1961 - The 4158 (K12 Prep) was released. It is not shown in any catalog. It was the predecessor of the 68-1892.
- 1962 - The 68-1892 (K12 Prep) replaced the old 4058 group.
- 1972 - The K12 Prep is last shown in the 1972 catalog.
The 68-1892 in the last image above is the special edition model, mounted on a heavy leather pad for ease of operation on a desk. (Note: There are no scales or other text on the back of these newer-model Beginner’s rules.)
Keuffel and Esser’s Beginner’s slide rule family was used for introducing students to the slide rule and for the initial training of the future’s scientists, engineers, and business executives. It was not unusual for schools to buy supplies of Beginner’s rules to be used for several years by many students. As ascertained from the 1929 K&E catalog according to Babcock19, “the 4058 with the Xylonite indicator was $0.75, the 4058C with the frameless indicator was $1.00, and the 4058W was $1.25, or 33% more expensive than the 4058. However, this was still much less expensive than the $6.50 for a basic model 4041 Mannheim rule.”