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How It's Made? - Tape Measures

How It's Made? - Tape Measures
By Bill Dickson February 22, 2016 42835 Views

Photo by Evan Amos

Before any nail is hammered down, any wood board is cut with a saw or any screws are drilled into any surface, exact measurements are needed to make sure your project is constructed neatly and safely. Ever since the dawn of time, some sort of measurement device has been used to help builders in their projects. Today, the tape measure is a staple in every work belt all over the world. This week, the web staff from Tool Parts Direct takes a look at how tape measures are created on How It’s Made?

Brief History

Photo Courtesy of the Global Egyptian Museum

Measuring devices have been used since the first construction projects began in ancient times. The ancient Egyptians created a measuring rod to help with simple measurements. The Romans also adapted the measuring rod using their own and Greek measurements. Other types of tape measures also involved notching a leather strap for accurate measurements as well.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the modern tape measure came into being. The first modern tape measure was originally patented in England by James Chersterman in 1829. Chesterman was in the business of making “flat wire” for the fashion industry. A lot of dressmakers used loops of the wire for hoop skirts which were popular at the time.

Chesterman had developed a heat-treating process that made the flat wire stronger and easier to produce in continuous, unbroken lengths. As hoop skirts went out of fashion, Chesterman was left with a large surplus of metal tape.

So, he decided to put marks on a very long steel tapes to create a lightweight steel band measuring chain. Many were using heavy surveyor’s chains at the time and this eased the workload of the construction, carpentry and dock working industries. While it made life easier for a lot of people, it carried a heavy price tag at the time. In the US, Chesterman’s tape measures sold for $17…about $300 in today’s money.

On July 14, 1868, Connecticut inventor Alvin Fellows had the first American patent on the modern tape measure. Fellows added a spring clip to his tape measures which allowed the tape measure to be locked into place until it was released by the user.

While useful, its expense kept many people used wooden rulers until the 20th century when tape measures became cost effective for users.

Simple Design and Materials

Photo Courtesy of The Science Channel via Youtube

The tape measure’s design is simple and practical. It is a rolled up wire or string inside of a device that can be pulled out to measure. A flexible ruler. Tape measures can be made out of cloth, plastic, fiber glass, or metal strip. Each is lined with linear-measurement markings. The user simply pulls out the tape and measures what they need to measure.

The Manufacturing Process

Photo Courtesy of The Science Channel via Youtube

When production begins, a 3D computer design is rendered for reference. Five strips of steel are pulled through a machine which allows them to be coated with primer.

Photo Courtesy of The Science Channel via Youtube

Once the primer is rolled onto the steel, all strips are fed into another machine to be painted. (Usually, a bright yellow.) As the steel strips are rolled into another machine, rolling cylinders print the measurements onto the strips.

Photo Courtesy of The Science Channel via Youtube

After that process is completed, the tape is heated to make sure the plastic film bonds with and protects the steel properly. Rollers then give the tape a concave contour, so it can be extended rigidly.

Photo Courtesy of The Science Channel via Youtube

Every few seconds, the rollers slowly stop to allow the machine to cut the tape to its proper length. The same machine also punches a hole for the end hook at the other end.

Photo Courtesy of The Science Channel via Youtube

While that is going on, another machine rolls up steel band to help create springs. The spring helps the tape measure retract into the casing. The end of the spring is clipped to an automatic winding machine and that spring is then transferred into the casing.

Photo Courtesy of The Science Channel via Youtube

Once the spring is installed, a lubricant is put onto the string and workers then install the control breaks that allows the tape to lock and unroll a tape into place. After that, the rest of the case is assembled by a worker and screwed together. Finally, the measuring tape is attached to spring and is tested to make sure the measurements are accurate.

Photo Courtesy of The Science Channel via Youtube


Tape measures take the guess work out of a lot of projects and continue to be used all over the world. While laser measures are becoming popular, the tape measure is still going to be the measuring tool of choice for a long, long time.

Thanks for reading and make sure you keep an eye out for future content from all of us here at ToolPartsDirect.com!