Marking a milestone in history, literally
The American odometer celebrates 150 years
May 13, 1997
Web posted at: 12:00 a.m. EDT (0400 GMT)
(CNN) -- In the days long before Route 66 and the Cadillac, a contraption came to life in the West that forever changed the road trip. One hundred fifty years ago this week, Mormon pioneers constructed an odometer.
The Mormon expedition, including a clerk, a mathematician, an astronomer and others, was trying to map the way for future pioneers.
"Invention is not the right word, because odometers were known way back in ancient times," says Glen Leonard, Director of the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City, Utah.
But the machine did vastly improve upon the technique William Clayton, the clerk, had been using.
"As he tried to keep track of the mileage, he devised a means of tying a bandana on a wagon wheel and counting the revolutions," explains Leonard. "But it was tiresome, as you might guess."
So Clayton asked Orson Pratt, the expedition's mathematician, to design a less taxing system. Appleton Harmon, another member of the group, then built it.
"It's a very simple device with just a few wheels of different sizes, and cogs on them that attach to the axle of the wagon. The final wheel has digits on it that measure the miles," says Leonard.
The Museum of Church History and Art, which traces the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a working replica of the primitive odometer. The museum is open seven days a week, except for some holidays. Admission is free.
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