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Map measurer of the month- the Mile-O-Graph

“fits into pocket or purse. Saves time, tires, temper”

1957 advertisment for Mile-O-Graph

In 1956, the Mile-O-Graph measure was advertised in newspapers across the U.S. as ‘the “different” gift for every driver’. Usually priced at $2 each, this instrument was immediately intuitive to the user. Held like a pen, the small brass wheel could be rolled along lines on a map, be they road or path, and the distance easily read off.

Mile-O-Graph in use on inch scale map
Mile-O-Graph in use on inch scale map

The Mile-O-Graph was invented by Louis J. Petion of Garden City, New York and he applied for a patent 9 May 1955. This was awarded 29 May 1956. His patent application stated that the primary object of his invention was to measure straight or curved distances on road maps and drawings of various scales and then supply the distance with no need for further calculation. The Mile-O-Graph was an improvement on a design for a ‘measuring instrument‘ patented in 1936. The inventor never stopped with measuring devices, in 1959 he patented a new design of shoe brush.

Mile-O-Graph map measure was available in a small range of colours
The Mile-O-Graph map measure was available in a small range of colours. The cream coloured version shown here is for use with nautical charts, the red instrument for road maps

Another stated aim of the inventor was to create an instrument that “is small and compact in structure and which is easy to read“. In this, he had succeeded. The Mile-O-Graph is of similar dimensions to a bulky fountain pen of the period with which it would happily sit within a pocket. However the Mile-O-Graph is not quite as small or as attractive as the quality Roller Rule map measurer, from some thirty years previous. However it would have been, comparatively, a good deal cheaper to purchase.

In 1957 Joseph Mennen Co. were advertising Mile-O-Graphs for sale from their New York address- 117 Liberty Street, N.Y.6. Twenty years later they had relocated to 192 Vincent Avenue, Lynbrook, New York where they are listed as manufacturing a range of vinyl, marine and plastic marine accesories. For the fisherman they were making rod caddies, sand spikes and rod holders, as well as chart caddys, display stands, binocular cases, bird scarers and, of course, the Mile-O-Graph. Earlier surviving Mile-O-Graphs frequently survive with their original robust box in which they were packaged. Later Mile-O-Graphs were sold more simply packaged and usually came with slim, vinyl slip cases, presumably far cheaper to make. Occasionally, a wealthier audience must have been targeted as leather slip cases were also provided for a brief period. The company contact address or offices moved around quite a bit over the years, those listed here are not necessarily in the correct date order:

  • 117 Liberty Street, N.Y. 6, N.Y. (1957)
  • 22 Clinton Avenue, Valley Stream, L.I., N.Y. (1960s)
  • 192 Vincent Avenue, Lynbrook, N.Y. (1977)
  • 1002 Central Avenue, Woodmere, N.Y.
  • 165 Broadway, N.Y., N.Y.
Rear page of 'Speed Age' magazine, 1957
Rear page advertisement in ‘Speed Age‘ magazine, 1957

“Looking for the shortest route?

find it in a moment with

MILE-O-GRAPH”

Mile-O-Graph advertised in Motor Trend, May 1957
Mile-O-Graph advertised in Motor Trend, May 1957

The Mile-O-Graph was frequently advertised in US magazines that were particularly aimed at motorists. A 1957 advertisment in Motor Trend had them priced at $2 each or three for $5.

Special purchase‘ offers appeared in some newspapers in the 1950s that offered the Mile-O-Graph for different prices. Just 99 cents in the Vermont Sunday News (19 May 1957), Burlington Daily News (20 May 1957), St. Albans Daily Messenger (3 July 1957). By December 1957 the price had risen to $1.25, or $1.95 in the Eugene Guard (20 March 1958) rising again to $1.98 in 1959, $1.95 in Orlando Evening Star (20 December 1967) However throughout this decade, almost all advertisments from the manufacturer themself had them priced at $2 each. Mile-O-Graphs were available for purchase by either mail-order or from selective retail outlets, Liebers in Indianapolis proudly advertised that they could “be purchased for $1.95 on their third floor”.

The cheaply made Mile-O-Graph was a novelty item that was presented as gifts. Some examples have additional body printing or packaging to indicate their sponsor.

The measure is not particularly high quality. Other than a brass tracking wheel and some other internal metal components, it is manufactured from rubber, paper and primarily plastic. That said, the component parts were put together well and thousands have survived. The Mile-O-Graph is 162mm long with a maximum barrel diameter of 18mm. The lightweight construction means that it weighs a modest 21g. The design was cloned by other manufacturers in subsequent years and quality reduced still futher- the brass tracking wheel being exchanged for plastic on some manufacturers copies for example.

Other than the scale visible through the instruments side window, the only other writing on the body reads: ‘DIR‘ (with arrow, indicating direction of use, ‘PAT’D NO. 2747287‘, ‘MILE-O-GRAPH ® N.Y.C.’, ‘MADE IN U.S.A.’

The direction of use for the brass tracking wheel is shown on the instrument's body
The direction of use for the brass tracking wheel is shown on the instrument’s body

Louis Petion introduced a number of novel elements with this measurer. Other than the new or refined operating and indicating mechanisms, one of the handiest is the roll of paper, or ‘similar material’, printed with various scales, that could be turned to by twisting the end cap. Regretably it is this element that stops working first on these measures.

Mile-O-Graph map measurer
Measuring scales are shown in the side window of the Mile-O-Graph. The white indicator mark can be seen on the grey rotating band below the scale

As the knurled brass wheel is tracked along a line on a map, this wheel rotates a rubber band so that an indicator mark on the band moves along the scale seen through the rectangular window in the side of the measurer.

There are an impressive thirty scales on the roll inside the measurer. All of these are shown at the end of this blog. Once the roll of paper is rotated as far as it can go in one direction, the word STOP (repeated three times) is shown, indicating that the roll has to now be rotated in the opposite direction.

I find the instrument is not the most accurate. Rolling 10 measured inches results in 11 being shown on the instruments scale. This is an error margin of 10%, which is surprisingly poor for an instrument in to which so much design work has gone.

Patent- US2747287-drawings of measuring device
Patent- US2747287-drawing of Mile-O-Graph measuring device
Instructions that come with the Mile-O-Graph
Mile-O-Graph was normally sold in a simple card box with lid, together with a set of instructions beneath the instrument
The Mile-O-Graph was normally sold in a simple card box with a card lid with a branded paper covering, together with a set of instructions beneath the instrument (shown here)

The name of the plastic measure was specific- Mile-O-Graph. From at least 1957, beside simply measuring miles, the instrument was also available with a nautical scale. Other versions had alternative scales for kilometers and other engineering purposes.

Kilometer version of Mile-O-Graph
Packaging for Mile-O-Graph, this box indicates that it held the kilometer version of the measure

“The precision patented combination MILE-O-GRAPH computes nautical miles on all charts of United States and Canadian inland and coastal waters, and also foreign waters”

from 1957 advertisement
The nautical version of the Mile-O-Graph came in a striking attractive blue box
The nautical version of the Mile-O-Graph came in a striking attractive blue box

The plastic body and end cap for the measurers was made in three colours- black, red and white. The white has normally altered to a cream tint in the intervening years. There is a very yellowish cream bodied version that may be an off-white or is actually yellow, too many years have passed with consequent changes in the plastic medium to be sure. Just about any combination of the colours can be found and the colour of an instrument is no indicator of the type of measure that it is- mile, kilometer, nautical or engineering.

  • Red body, red cap
  • Red body, white cap
  • White body, white cap
  • White body, red cap
  • White/red body, white cap
  • White body, black cap
  • Black body, white cap
  • Black body, red cap

The inventor of the Mile-O-Graph wasn’t content with his design, he went on to submit a further patent application for another ‘rolling contact measuring instrument‘ in 1964. We look at that measurer in another blog. Three Points of the Compass has also looked at a few other Map Measurers in detail. Links to these can be found here.

Mile-O-Graph scales:

The thirty scales found on the rotating indicator roll on the road Mile-O-Graph are shown below. The STOP indicator is found at both ends of the roll.

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