This exhibition was on display from December 12, 2014 to May 25, 2015.

There were 176 objects in this exhibition but right now we can only show you 170 of them. Some objects may not be viewable because they were on loan; this might be due to issues involving image rights or simply because there is no digitized image for the objects.

This exhibition has been divided in to the following sections:

See all the exhibitions.

Measure

How much? How far? How long? These questions have driven scientific inquiry and the desire for greater accuracy through the creation and use of measuring tools. Navigation, time, and quantifying tools chart our path, mark our time, and regulate our lives.
We create maps and charts to visualize data obtained from these instruments. As the volume of information to analyze increases exponentially, designers, like mapmakers, are working to distill it into accessible formats such as enlarged microchip diagrams that reveal many layers and circuits or a "live" map of celestial bodies that poetically visualizes one's music collection.
Navigate:
Maps help us visualize information: data, circuits on microchips or ocean currents. To determine their location, navigators historically relied on angle-finding tools like the sextant and astrolabe. They gave real-time calculations just like today’s GPS or its next generation, the T-IMU.
Quantify:
An abacus, a calculator, and a slide rule answer the question HOW MUCH? by means of very different techniques. The construction of some of our greatest modern buildings was calculated using slide rules. For surveying complex sites and surfaces, 3D laser scanners achieve such high precision that the interior of an entire building can be represented in minute detail.
Time:
By the 19th century, affordable timepieces became available to a growing American middle class because they could be factory made. More than tools to keep time, pocket watches served as status symbols and fashion accessories, and achieved unexpected success during the Civil War, when they became a fad among Union soldiers.

  • Tonometer (France), 1876
  • steel, walnut.
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, 217544 (600....
  • 14.2012.64
  • Box Clock (USA), ca. 1816
  • wood case with painted dial on glass door, lead weights, paper.
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, 317044.
  • 14.2012.46
  • Sextant And Case (England), ca. 1865
  • sextant: brass, silver, glass; case: mahogany, brass, felt.
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, 1980.0318.03.
  • 14.2012.23