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Slide Rules Rule!

Updated on January 3, 2010

Slipstick spirit lives on!

Are you an engineer? Okay, cool, so you have a slide rule, right? Wait, what? No slide rule? How can you call yourself an engineer then? A scientist? I mean, don't you LOVE logarithms? And trigonometric functions? And order of magnitude has always been easy to keep track of in your head, right? No slipstick?!

Alright, I'll help you out here. This lens will give you another notch on your geek belt. Yeah... I see you smiling now!

Slide Rule Fanclub President?

Is the slide rule the coolest thing or what?

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A Brief History of the Slide Rule

Excerpt from Wikipedia

The slide rule (often nicknamed a "slipstick") was developed by William Oughtred and others (see history, below); it is a mechanical analog computer, consisting of at least two finely divided scales (rules), most often a fixed outer pair and a movable inner one, with a sliding window called the cursor. The slide rule is used primarily for multiplication and division, and also for "scientific" functions such as roots, logarithms and trigonometry, but does not generally perform addition or subtraction. The Binary Slide Rule manufactured by Gilson in 1931 performed an addition and subtraction function limited to fractions.

Before the advent of the pocket calculator, it was the most commonly used calculation tool in science and engineering. The use of slide rules continued to grow through the 1950s and 1960s even as digital computing devices were being gradually introduced; but around 1974 the electronic scientific calculator made it largely obsolete and most suppliers exited the business.

Read the rest of the article.

Slide Rule History

Slide Rules: A Journey Through Three Centuries
Slide Rules: A Journey Through Three Centuries

Originally published in German in 1977 as the first major book on the history of the slide rule since Florian Cajori's A History of the Logarithmic Slide Rule, this newly revised and translated edition of Slide Rules, A Journey Through Three Centuries, offers readers a fresh, more Continental perspective on this most fascinating of calculating instruments.

 

Learn to Use the Slide Rule

The basic math of the slide rule lies in the logarithmic scales marked on the device. Multiplication and division of large numbers can be easily done by aligning the appropriate marks. In essence, moving the slider allows you to add the distances on the slide rule, and with logarithm rules in mind, log(A)+log(B)=log(AxB). Confused? Try it out for yourself. Oh, riiight, you don't have a slide rule yet. Use a virtual one, then.

Slide Rules Explained in Video

Using the Slide Rule

Slide Rule, How to Use It (Everyday Handbooks Series)
Slide Rule, How to Use It (Everyday Handbooks Series)

simple, practical guide with complete instructions.

 

Linear Slide Rules

Okay, you're ready to get your own slide rule now. Take a peek. Get your own pocket-sized slipstick to truly become old-school engineer! Ditch your calculator. They use electricity.

What is 2 x 2?

The engineer whips out his slide rule, shuffles it back and forth, and finally announces "3.99".

Circular Slide Rules

If you're always doing calculations that make you run out of room, you need a wrap-around circular slide rule. Oftentimes, you'll get increased accuracy on the outer scales, too. They come with one or two movable arms.

GIANT Slide Rules

Do you believe bigger is better? Check out some of these large demonstration slide rules. Great for classrooms and living rooms. Or bedrooms, too.

Slide Rule Watches

You think engineers are the only ones who used slide rules? Well, you know what, pilots use slide rules, too. And they are so cool that they still use them today! It's a fast way to calculate speed, distance, fuel use, etc. The E6B style watches go great with aviator glasses.

Slide Rules Made Simple

The Slide Rule, Simplified, Explained, and Illustrated for the Mechanical Trades
The Slide Rule, Simplified, Explained, and Illustrated for the Mechanical Trades

This book, first published in 1881, was written about the use of the first standard slide rule made in the United States: a Mannheim-type slide rule made by Stephens Co., a major rule manufacturer. As a source book, it should be of great interest and value to tool collectors, slide rule enthusiasts, and woodworkers.

 

Slide Rule Collecting Links

So, you're ready to take the leap into collecting? Check out these resources online, and you'll find that you're joining a very vibrant community.

Did I convince you to get one? Or are you an avid collector already? Please leave a comment. Especially if you have a slide rule joke. Thanks!

Have you got your slide rule yet?

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    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 6 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I've heard of slide rules and I knew they were used for calculating but this is the first time I've seen a picture of one and read an explanation of how they were used. Blessed.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image

      LabKittyDesign 6 years ago

      Sorry, anything less than an HP15c and it ain't worth the effort. Hard to imagine they built atom bombs with these things (and a lot of Marchant calculators). Great lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Well done interesting topic. There is a teacher in Vancouver, B.C. who insists students use slide rules. It appears he has bought up just about every slide rule in existence. He believes that the information sinks into their brains faster, and they are challenged more if they use slide rules.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Well done interesting topic. There is a teacher in Vancouver, B.C. who insists students use slide rules. It appears he has bought up just about every slide rule in existence. He believes that the information sinks into their brains faster, and they are challenged more if they use slide rules.

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 7 years ago from Australia

      I know my dad has a slide rule but I've never actually used one. Great lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Terrific lens! I didn't realize that there were so many people collecting these wonderful old tools! 5 stars!

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 9 years ago

      Mention a slide rule to the younger generation and they give you a blank look. I have one in my classroom. I call it my manual calculator. The kids love it...as long as they don't have to actually use it.

      Great lens

      Lizzy

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 9 years ago

      I still have a slide rule although I dont' really recall using it; we had large, clunky, and somewhat expensive calculators. My husband is an engineer and he likes doing everything the hard way so he can appreciate this page!

    • The Homeopath profile image

      The Homeopath 9 years ago

      Oh dear. I am old.

    • Roxy Calamari profile image

      Roxy Calamari 9 years ago

      Great lens! I had no idea that slide rules were collectibles. 5 stars!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 9 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I remember using them at school. Never did like it much. Thankfully we now have calculators. I also remember using compometers too.

    • MacPharlain profile image

      MacPharlain 9 years ago

      My high school math teacher had one of the big demo slide rules hanging up in the classroom. He'd take it down and use it occasionally.

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 9 years ago

      My dad is a mathematician / IT specialist. He has one in his desk and used to show me how it works. Never converted me though :) calculators are so much easier.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 9 years ago

      My dad is an engineer, so slide rules were basic equipment at our house. I still have a couple in my desk drawer!