Instrument Makers: Theodore Alteneder

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Article taken from "Backsights" Magazine published by Surveyors Historical Society


by Dale Beeks

Throughout the 19th century a majority of the drawing instruments offered by instrument retailers in America were manufactured in France, England, Germany, and Switzerland, the last being the preferred instruments among users.  These instruments were retailed by very early companies such as McAllister of Philadelphia in the 1830's and during the latter half of the 19th century by large American manufacturers such as Keuffel and Esser, and Dietzgen.

The use of drawing instruments was employed by many disciplines including surveying and cartography, architecture, and literally all design work where accuracy and proportional transfers were involved.  Custom sets of drawing instruments, incorporating instruments of preference, were compiled by the retailers for specialized purposes.  Instrument sets used by surveyors and cartographers may have included railroad pens and curves, dotting pens, and proportional dividers, while simple sets such as those found today were probably purchased for student use.

alteneder.JPG (74658 bytes)One Philadelphia manufacturer became quite active as a drawing instrument maker in the latter half of the 19th century.  Theodore Alteneder, an innovative machinist and draftsman, saw the need for a better designed compass and joint pattern.  In 1850 he patented an improved joint design and in 1871 he was granted a second patent for further improvements"...which made (the joint) dust-proof and free from wear and friction".  Alteneder was awarded a medal for his designs in the Centennial Exhibitions of 1876 and a silver medal was received from the Franklin Institute in 1885.  Theodore Alteneder was one of few American manufacturers of drawing instruments.  He continued manufacturing as lat as 1912.



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