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What’s a Gerber Variable Scale?

I first became familiar with the Gerber Scale while recently speaking to a couple of NASA retirees who worked on the Apollo program back in the 60s. They are Ray Melton, who was in the Lunar Module Rocket engine test areas at White Sands and Dave Pippen, an electrical engineer, who also worked in the Rocket engine test area at White Sands, and later began the Materials Test Lab right after the unfortunate Apollo 1 (AS-204) fire on January 27, 1967.

Back in the early 60s, there were really no computers or electronic calculators generally available to engineers. Guys like Melton and Pippen were so dedicated and creative in those days where electronics was basically just emerging from Vacuum tubes and moving into transistor technology. Their dedication and creativity enabled the United States to meet President Kennedy’s edict to land a man on the Moon before the 60s decade was over—and they did!

Ray Melton's Apollo memorabilia from the 60s including the Gerber Scale he used in his work in the Rocket engine area at NASA White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) (Image courtesy of Ray Melton; photo by Loretta Taranovich)

Ray Melton’s Apollo memorabilia from the 60s including the Gerber Scale he used in his work in the Rocket engine area at NASA White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) (Image courtesy of Ray Melton; photo by Loretta Taranovich)

The Gerber Scale was designed by H. Joseph Gerber, an inventor who ultimately founded Gerber Scientific, Inc. He passed away at age 72 in 1996. Gerber accumulated over 600 patents during his career. He was also awarded the National Medal of Honor in 1994 by President Clinton for his innovations for the optical, automotive, and garment industries as well as greatly affecting many other industries such as the use of the Gerber Scale on the Apollo program in various areas.

At age 15, Gerber was imprisoned at a Nazi labor camp. Thank God he survived and was able to come to the United States in about 1940. While in college in the US, Gerber founded Gerber Scientific, around 1948 or so, with a $3,000 investment. This was around the time that he invented the Gerber Variable Scale. Gerber Technology has grown into a large, successful business.

The Gerber Variable Scale performed calculations on curves, graphs, and is used for graphical applications in which reading, plotting, and interpolating needed to be done.

Such things such as a type of oscilloscope, more commonly called an oscillograph, with which the trace is recorded permanently on photographic paper or other recording medium in visible form. This was George Downs’ Patent. Then the Gerber Scale could help in taking a plotted curve and turn it into a family of curves or multiply the original curve by constants.

In this image, from the Gerber Scale manual, we see curve 'a' drown on paper. Next, the Gerber Scale will plot a family of curves with values of 0.2a, 0.4a, 0.6a, 0.8a, and the original 1.0a on top. This is done by placing the Gerber Variable Scale along any point 'x' parallel to the ordinate with the 0 coil at y=o, and the 100 coil at curve 'a'. Then mark off points at 20, 40, 60, and 80 coils. Move the instrument to other stations 'x' and repeat the procedure. Finally draw a curve through equal % points. Note: a graph grid is not used in these calculations and is completely unnecessary. (From Ray Melton's Gerber Scale Manual)

In this image, from the Gerber Scale manual, we see curve ‘a’ drown on paper. Next, the Gerber Scale will plot a family of curves with values of 0.2a, 0.4a, 0.6a, 0.8a, and the original 1.0a on top. This is done by placing the Gerber Variable Scale along any point “x” parallel to the ordinate with the 0 coil at y=o, and the 100 coil at curve “a”. Then mark off points at 20, 40, 60, and 80 coils. Move the instrument to other stations “x” and repeat the procedure. Finally draw a curve through equal % points. Note: a graph grid is not used in these calculations and is completely unnecessary. (From Ray Melton’s Gerber Scale Manual)

I highly recommend checking out ‘Nathan’s Possibly interesting web site’ in Reference 1—it is DEFINITELY interesting!

References

1 Nathan’s Possibily interesting website

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