Man has always had the need to measure things, and implemented various parts of the body to do so. It is thought that inches and feet originate from the thumb width and foot length, respectively.
There is something of the ‘chicken and egg’ about the ruler and any unit of measurement that a civilisation creates – the development of a unit must require some form of physical marking, which in turn would have led to a basic ruler. Simple ivory rulers have been found from as far back as 2400BC. Fine for measuring, but try to play a tune on one.
A sixteenth century mathematician, William Bedwell, is credited with the invention of what we now recognise as a ruler: a precisely marked instrument made for measuring and drawing straight lines. The arrival of the metric system, in the eighteenth century led to the ruler you see today, because that unit system was adopted on a mass scale and has been fixed ever since.
To further confuse matters, no single ruler is one-hundred per cent reliable, one must take into account calibration thickness, ruler material, print quality etc. This is why no one has ever been able to tell you the length of a piece of string.
Here is a whistle-stop tour some inspiring ruler-based art, attractions and makeables.
Igancio Uriarte created a series of 72 compositions using four geometry sets. Rulers, protractors and set squares were aligned to create graphic motifs and patterns, all simply shot in black and white. It’s a pleasing series that will inspire your own desktop arrangements (or just encourage you to tidy up a bit).