slide rule

slide rule, instrument for making numerical computations and readings, the results of which may be read easily and quickly after performing simple mechanical manipulations. Multiplication and division, finding of powers and roots, and other more complicated calculations may be performed with a slide rule. Based on John Napier's principle of the logarithm, it came into use after Edmund Gunter created a logarithmic scale in 1620. Gunter's rule consisted of a straight line on which numbers were spaced at intervals proportional to their common logarithms. Using this scale, William Oughtred and Edmund Wingate developed independently (c.1630) the first slide rules. Amédée Mannheim, a French army officer, in 1850 established the form that it maintained thereafter. This had three parts, the stock, the slide, and the cursor (indicator). The stock consisted of two fixed parallel rules, each with a scale on its inner edge. The slide was a single rule, moving between them. It had two scales on its outer edge, each scale corresponding to the fixed scale to which it was adjacent. The cursor, a transparent square with a hairline, could be moved the length of the rule to aid in reading it. In its many varieties it had additional scales for such calculation as logarithms, trigonometric functions, and square roots. By the late 1980s they had been supplanted by the electronic calculators, which were easier to use and more accurate.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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