The Dividing Machine: An Invention by William Stanley

  • Location South Norwood Hill
  • Year Invented 1861
  • Invention Type Industrial, Commercial
  • Inventor William Stanley

William F Stanley updated a straight-line dividing machine for the dividing of mathematical scales.

The commercial success of this machine, particularly following the award of a medal at the International Exhibition of 1862, was the effective start of the success story of W. F. Stanley and Company Ltd. The business had various factories, workshops and outlets across Greater London and its environs, but was very significant for South Norwood where Stanley lived.

Before Stanley started his business, his father had pointed out to him that the Swiss were introducing drawing instruments of light construction which had considerable advantages over the current British makes and that there was a considerable opportunity for a mechanic with ability and originality to set up for himself in this line of business. W. F. Stanley decided to set up in business for himself, with around £100 in capital, as a maker of drawing office equipment. Not long after this he invented a simplified version of a stereoscope which he retailed at a quarter of the price of the instruments already on the market. A London wholesale firm gave him an order for 1,200 and after he had made the necessary special tools. The size of the order made it possible for him to engage his first workman.

One of the problems which Stanley had to grapple with was that of the division of drawing scales, the accuracy of which at that time left a great deal to be desired, as was pointed out constantly by his customers. In 1861 he had managed to devise a straight-line dividing machine for the dividing of mathematical scales. The dividing machine worked by turning a handle and divide any space into equal parts and could therefore be used to divide to the standard lengths of all nations.

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