Bringing 1916 to 2016: Slide Rules [VIDEO]

by Tatiana Johnson on May 13, 2016 · 3 comments

in Learning, Modern Geekhood, Remember When..., Student Life, Video

Can 100-year-old technology still be used? Today’s MIT students take the challenge with one essential component of technological advancement—the slide rule. In 2016 we have a tool that functions the same way on our phones and computers, and back in 1916 scientists used the slide rule to solve anything from basic mathematical computation to the Apollo 13 landing. Curator of Science and Technology at the MIT Museum Deborah Douglas calls the slide rule “one of the coolest and most important technological instruments that people don’t have the dimmest idea about.” If this tool was so crucial why isn’t it still being used?

Join some inquisitive MIT students as they learn how essential the slide rule was and what has happened to it over the past 100 years.

Watch the 3 minute video.

Dive even further into MIT’s historic quirks in a live Twitter chat with MIT Libraries archivists, including Nora Murphy, on May 17 at 3:00 p.m. EDT. Bring your questions about life in 1916 and learn about the artifacts uncovered in researching a century in Cambridge. Follow the chat with the hashtag #MITAlum.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

George May 13, 2016 at 11:29 am

When I got to MIT in 1971, most students were still using slide rules as the only calculator you could buy was the HP 35 for $ 495 at the Coop. In one year TI came up with the SR10 for $ 120. Then the slide rules dissapeared in a few years. I personally preferred round slide rules, as when you tried to locate two numbers if you passed the place, the slide rule would forgive and continue on the next circle. In other words you did not have to slide right and then left. Plus they fit in a pocket. The long rules did not fot in a jacket. I remember a few professors would conduct races between the slide rules and the calculators.

George Lechter ’75 ME, ’77 Sloan
Won 2.70 project 1971
Google ‘Apple Must Time Magazine’ I am Cortland


Sarah Simon May 13, 2016 at 11:17 pm

Fun video. Good public promo. But add a little more STE(A)M.
E.g. Engineers had to understand “scale”, the orders of magnitude, to calculate with the logarithmic graphics of a slide rule. All numbers and world science makes more sense when put in scale. The US has ~365 million people; China 1200 million people. The President earns ~$400,000; 4x more than me and I earn 4x what a person who earns $12.50/hr makes. Someone who earns $2 million a year earns 4x what the President earns, but earning $1 billion is 2,000 times more.


Nelo Sekler June 18, 2016 at 11:05 pm

One recollection about slide rules at MIT: I arrived in 1952 to start my freshman year;
setting up a table in the lobbies of all the dorms was a gentleman with a small machine who engraved our names in red on the slide rules for, I think, 1 $ or so – he had captive clients lining up for his service.


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