Mathematical Charts and Tables Conversion Tables

Conversion Tables

As has been suggested already, instructive mathematical charts introduced unfamiliar units of measure. A number of handy tables also were produced to assist in conversions.  Perhaps the earliest such chart in the collections dates from about 1814, and is designed to convert from units divisible by twelfths to decimal units. The size of conversion factor and the way the numbers are written suggest that it was made to convert from Massachusetts pounds and shillings to U.S. currency.  By the mid-20th century, the dollar prevailed throughout the United States, and Americans were more concerned with understanding foreign currencies when they traveled abroad. Toward that end, some purchased a slide chart called the UNICON, which allowed them to convert between dollars and numerous foreign currencies when they knew the exchange rate.

Engineers have long needed to perform conversions as part of their work. In the first half of the 20th century, manufacturers sometimes distributed small advertising cards that listed decimal equivalents of parts of an inch. Larger tables might list a large number of useful conversion factors.  New efforts to introduce metric weights and measures in the United States in the 1970s led to the distribution of a range of cards and slide charts that eased conversions. These were distributed by organizations ranging from the federal government to a manufacturer of outdoor clothing and camping supplies to a producer of food emulsifiers and flavorings.