Keuffel & Esser

The K&E factory around 1907.
Figure 1: The K&E factory around 1907.
As Keuffel & Esser have German roots, the addition of a single American transit to my otherwise European collection is not completely illogical, even though it was acquired by accident.

A short history1
The Keuffel and Esser Co., also known as K&E, was a drafting instrument and supplies company founded in 1867 by German immigrants William J. D. Keuffel and Herman Esser. It was the first American company to specialize in these products.

Keuffel and Esser started out in New York and sold drawing materials and drafting supplies. In 1876, K&E started selling surveying instruments. A four-story factory, in Hoboken, New Jersey was completed four years later, and K&E was incorporated in 1889.

A K&E diaphragm with spider threads.
Figure 2: A K&E diaphragm with spider threads.
That same year Mary Pfeiffer was employed by K&E to run the spider ranch, which she would do until 1941.2 Spider silk was used to create the cross-hairs in their instruments.2 She mainly used Epeira Diademata (also known as Araneus Diadematus or the Cross Orbweaver) and Zilla Atrica for the purpose.2

In 1892, the company commissioned a building for their showroom and offices at 127 Fulton Street in Manhattan from the architecture firm of De Lomos & Cordes, who designed a 8-story brick and terra cotta building in the Renaissance Revival style. The building was completed in 1893, and the company occupied it until 1961. It was designated a New York City landmark in 2005.

In the first decade of the 20th century, K&E introduced another, new line of surveying instruments based on the work of John Paoli, an Italian immigrant in Hoboken. A new Keuffel and Esser Manufacturing Complex was built in 1906. The building was converted to housing in 1975, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 12, 1985.

The 1967 K&E catalogue, showing the Askania Tu400 optical theodolite.
Figure 3: The 1967 K&E catalogue, showing the Askania Tu400 optical theodolite.
K&E acquired Young & Sons of Philadelphia in 1918, and made it a department of the firm. In the 1920s, K&E started manufacturing slide rules. A special slide rule was designed in the mid-1930s by Nelson M. Cooke of the Navy's Radio Materiel School; many thousands of the 4139 Cooke Radio Slide Rule were made by K&E. The 4081-3 Log-Log Duplex Decitrig from K&E was a mainstay for engineering students and practising engineers in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. During World War II, the company made fire-control instruments for the US Government and won seven Army-Navy "E" Awards for Excellence in Production.

In the 1960s, K&E had an office in Montreal, Quebec, at 130 Montée de Liesse. It was one of the main suppliers to major engineering firms in Québec during the thriving years of the late sixties, when the province was booming with construction activities—building highways and preparing for Expo 67.

In the field of theodolites K&E kept on producing traditional instruments up to after the Second World War.3 The popularity of the optical theodolite, as designed by Heinrich Wild in the 1920s, had however reached America and in order to fulfil the demands K&E was "forced" to supply optical theodolites, made in Europe by Askania, to the American market (see figure 3).3

With the advent of the electronic, transistorized calculator in the 1970s, slide rules became obsolete in most contexts. Slide rules had never been very profitable for K&E, so it was not difficult to discontinue the line. K&E's market share shrank because of other technological advancements, and the firm shut down its slide-rule engraving machines in 1975.

The company was acquired by AZON Corp. in 1987.

Instrument(s) in the collection
The Askania in the collection is the same model as shown here, but not labelled "K&E" as it was intended for the European market. In the collection there is a:


[1]: Unless differently stated the content of this section was directly copied from the Keuffel and Esser page on WikiPedia (30 Januari 2014).
[2]: S.A. Bedini, "Along Came A Spider - Spinning Silk for Cross-Hairs. The Search for Cross-Hairs for Scientific Instrumentation, Part II", in: The American Surveyor, Vol.2, No.3., (2005), p. 79.
[3]: W. Schermerhorn, "Ontwikkelingen in de Landmeetkundige Wereld binnen en buiten onze Grenzen: Voordracht gehouden te Tilburg ter gelegenheid van het 5e lustrum van de Nederlandse Landmeetkundige Federatie.", in: Tijdschrift voor Kadaster en Landmeetkunde, 78e jaargang, nr.1, febr. 1962, p.28.

Figure reference
figure 1, figure 2: Private collection.
figure 3: Collection John Vossepoel.

If you have any questions and/or remarks please let me know.

Surveyor's crosses Geodetic Sextants Theodolites Total Stations Levels Standards Tools Firms
Ahrend Askania Carl Zeiss Jena Chesterman Doyle & Son Jenoptik Jena Kern Aarau Keuffel & Esser Lerebours SAT-SAGEM Secrétan à Paris Société des Lunetiers Tibaut Desimpelaere Wild Heerbrugg