Constructing Things in Geometry

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, April 3, 1912: Ma went to Milton today. I got her to get me a compass. We have arrived at constructing things in geometry. We have exams on Monday, so I’ve prepared in one way.

Modern plastic protractor and compass

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I can’t picture what compasses looked prior to the development of plastic. Were they made of wood? I wish that I’d scoped out the flea market prior to writing this post so I could describe ones from a hundred years ago.

Grandma probably also used a ruler to construct triangles, squares, and other shapes—perhaps one with a business advertisement on it. The Milton Historical Society has an old ruler from the Bijou Dream Theater. Grandma mentioned attending silent films at that theater several times in the diary, so maybe, just maybe —and I’m letting my imagination run wild–she used a Bijou Dream ruler to “construct things.”

 

12 Responses

  1. Bijou Dream…what a wonderful, whimsical name for a business.

    • Your comment made me dig up George Venios’s quote about the Bijou Dream in his book, Milton Chronicles and Legends.

      “The entrance to the Bijou Dream Theater, which was located on Broadway at the same site as the Capitol. It was a converted livery stable. On hot summer days, the unmistakable smell of the stable would return.”

      I guess maybe whimsical is the right term to use for a building that combined the scent of horses with the world of film. :)

  2. I have an old compass that belonged to my grandfather (born 1922). It’s made of metal, though I’m not sure what type. It’s very rusty at this point.

    • It’s awesome that you still have it. I really like old things that were once owned by family members–even if they obviously have seen better days in the past.

      • Definitely. It adds so much more meaning to whatever it is, despite the condition. I have several things that used to belong to my grandparents that are very near and dear to me. I’d never give them up.

  3. The other day my daughter and I were going thru an old “school box”, you know the kind with a cheap compass, protractor, pencils and sharpener. We weren’t sure that kids even used these tools in todays techie world. But your grandma’s mention of a compass was a reminder of how important this little tool was in the past school days

    • Thanks for reminding me of them. I loved school boxes when I was a kid. I can remember how much time I once spent selecting the perfect school box–with the perfect picture on the cover– at the local “five and dime” store.

  4. I used a metal compass and a metal protractor when I took geometry in 1963. The compass was sliver metal and the protractor was white with black numbers and lines. It was smaller than the plastic ones that came later.

    • Interesting that the metal ones were smaller. I suppose that was it cost more to produce a metal ones, so they were only the minimal size needed to do the job.

  5. I well remember how much I longed to be “doing” Geometry so I could have a compass like my older brothers (early 1960’s). It was metal, a bronze colour (so probably bronze) and the arms were square shaped and the screw that tightened the arms was ridged. Went on a hunt and found 2 that were my husbands but are silver, like Kristins. Smiled to see the two old “rubbers” (you call them “erasers”) stuck on the points for safety :-) The ones my children had were metal too but not so solid/heavy and the screw kept failing so they often needed replacing, grrrr…

    • It’s funny how little things can almost tell a story about a person or event. It’s awesome that they had old erasers (rubbers) on them. Someone was very safety conscience.

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