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Map measure of the month: >W&G< Drawing Instruments- model WG/5006

W&G scale rule, with slip case
>W&G< scale rule, model WG/5006, with slip case

This is an Australian made scale ruler from a company that began manufacturing duplicate printing plates and supplying printer equipment but went on to build a reputation for their well-made drawing instruments.

The >W&G< company name came from it’s two founders- A.E. White and J.D. Gillespie. Both men were formally stereotypers with the Signs Publishing Co. Warburton, Victoria, making printing blocks. The >W&G< company was based in Melbourne, Australia and from 1910 was engaged in producing duplicate printing plates and supplying specialist printer equipment.

From 1937, >W&G< drawing instruments manufactured protractors and scale rulers. Having become involved in the Australian war effort in 1939, by the end of the war they had supplied around quarter of a million navigational aids such as map measures, range finding devices and slide rules to the Australian military. The instrument manufacturing part of the company was sold to Melbourne business man Peter Lawton in 1977 who traded out of Victoria as W&G Precision Instruments Pty. Ltd. but retained the >W&G< trade mark.

WG rule, Australian made

Peter’s son John took on the company in 1984, establishing a new business- W&G Australia Pty. Ltd, and made changes to manufacturing processes and introduced a new product range. Concentration on educational products resulted in a change of company identity to W&G Education. For more than half a century, >W&G< measuring instruments were sold worldwide as well as on the domestic market.

One side of WG rule

The >W&G< logo- “Finest ENGINE DIVIDED Quality” is included on one side of the Model No. WG/5006 measure. A dividing engine is a device used to mark graduations on measuring instruments that allow for reading smaller measurements than can be allowed by directly engraving them. Vernier scale and micrometer screw-gauges are examples of such graduations.

Second side of WG rule

The W&G name is also known for a wholly separate subsidiary called the W & G Record Processing Company Pty. Ltd. that started in 1938. The initial purpose of this company was to make radio transcription records but moved to commercial vinyl records and microgrooves following the Second World War. They continued to make long player pressing equipment until 1977, when tape took hold of much of the vinyl market, and the business was sold.

There are four scales on the Model WG/5006 measuring ruler:

  • 6 inches to one mile, equivalent to 1:10560
  • 1:2500, equivalent to 25.344 inches (≈25 inches) to one mile
  • 1:1250, equivalent to 50.688 inches (≈50 inches) to one mile
  • 1:500, equivalent to 10.56 feet (≈10 feet) to one mile

These are four large scales. While the six inches to the mile scale had been adopted by the Ordance Survey for representing mountain and moorland on maps, these are the type of scales that might more frequently be used for planning applications. Note that numbered graduations for all four scales are shown running both left to right and right to left.

Measuring road on six inch to one mile Ordnance Survey map (Caernarvon sheet)
Measuring road on six inch to one mile Ordnance Survey map (Caernarvon sheet)

The Australian made >W&G< Model No. WG/5006 ruler shown here is a small and outwardly simple instrument, yet is still made to fine tolerances and is as accurate as might be expected for a product intended for careful navigation, survey and mapping. It likely dates from the 1970s/80s and has an interesting construction comprised of plastic laid over a shaped wood core. It is a small measuring instrument with little flex and measures 162mm x 33mm x 5mm. The rule weighs 20g, this reflects it’s tri-laminate construction.

Scale rule, in the hand
Scale ruler, in the hand

The plastic strips used by W&G were originally Xylonite. This was a product name for a cellulose acetate supplied by the British Xylonite Company. This material was a large fire risk and the plastic altered to Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and then, circa 1960, to Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). This final outer material is what our scale ruler is made from. ABS has useful mechanical properties such as impact resistance, toughness, and rigidity when compared with other common polymers.

WG rule is constructed of plastic over an wooden core
>W&G< rule is constructed of plastic over a wooden core

The durable wooden cores were made of either Silver Ash (a rare timber from Queensland, also used for furniture making, boat building and drumsticks) or Quondongl (a sandalwood, also used for furniture and cabinet making). Construction later changed from Australian wood to use Ramin, a tropical rainforest hardwood from Southeast Asia (a now endangered tree, also used in cabinetry, tool handles, and turned objects.). It is not clear which of these was used for the scale ruler shown here.

The plastic rulers and wood cores were placed in a heated press, hence the fire risk! This bonded the plastic to the wood and impressed the scale markings and printing etc. They were then cooled, then released from the press.

Scale markings, figures etc. were hand-filled with black Dulux enamel paint with excess wiped off. Edges were machined true and finished measures were finally buffed on a cloth wheel with fine abrasive compound.

Following the merger of three Australian brands associated with drawing and mathematics education: W&G, Mathomat geometry templates and Objective Learning Materials (OLM), the W&G name survives. The new umbrella company- Mathomat lists W&G Scale Rulers amongst their products. Manufacture has shifted overseas to Asia.

WG rule came supplied with a vinyl slip case
>W&G< ruler came supplied with a vinyl slip case

Three Points of the Compass has looked at a few more Map Measures in detail. Links to these can be found here.

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