Tape measure

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Plastic tape measure (metric)
Self-retracting metal tape measure (US customary)
Measuring tape capable of measuring down to ​132 inch (0.8 mm)
Diagram showing fractions of an inch on a standard sixteenth measuring tape

A tape measure or measuring tape is a flexible ruler and used to measure distance.

It consists of a ribbon of cloth, plastic, fibre glass, or metal strip with linear-measurement markings, it is a common measuring tool. Its design allows for a measure of great length to be easily carried in pocket or toolkit and permits one to measure around curves or corners. Today it is ubiquitous, even appearing in miniature form as a keychain fob, or novelty item. Surveyors use tape measures in lengths of over 100 m (300+ ft).


Tape measures that were intended for use in tailoring or dressmaking were made from flexible cloth or plastic, they are named "sewing tape". These types of tape measures were mainly used for the measuring of the human's waist line. Today, measuring tapes made for sewing are made of fiberglass, which does not tear or stretch as easily. Measuring tapes designed for carpentry or construction often use a stiff, curved metallic ribbon that can remain stiff and straight when extended, but retracts into a coil for convenient storage, this type of tape measure will have a floating tang or hook on the end to aid measuring. The tang is connected to the tape with loose rivets through oval holes, and can move a distance equal to its thickness, to provide both inside and outside measurements that are accurate.[1] A tape measure of 25 or even 100 feet can wind into a relatively small container, the self-marking tape measure allows the user an accurate one hand measure.

See the Plumbing article (the "Equipment and Tools" category) to find out how tape measures are used in that profession.


Hiram A. Farrand with the Farrand Rapid Rule

The first record of a people using a measuring device was by the Romans using marked strips of leather, but this was more like a regular ruler than a tape measure, on December 6, 1864 patent #45,372 was issued to William H. Bangs Jr. West Meriden, Connecticut. Bang's rule was the first attempt in the United States to make a spring return pocket tape measure, the tape could be stopped at any point and held by the mechanism. The tape could be returned to the case by sliding a button on the side of the case which then allowed the spring to pull the tape back into the case, this patent was assigned to Nathanial L. Bradley an Walter Hubbard of West Meriden, Connecticut. [2] On 3 January 1922, Hiram A. Farrand received the patent he filed in 1919 for his spring tape measure. Sometime between 1922 and December 1926, Farrand experimented with the help of The Brown Company in Berlin, New Hampshire,[3] it is there Hiram and William Wentworth Brown began mass-producing the tape measure.[4] Their product was later sold to Stanley Works.


The basic design on which all modern spring tape measures are built can trace its origins back to an 1864 patent by a West Meriden,, Connecticut resident named William H. Bangs Jr. According to the text of his patent, Bang's tape measure was an improvement on other versions previously designed. [5]

The spring tape measure has existed in the U.S. since Bang's patent in 1864, but its usage did not become very popular due to the difficulty in communication from one town to another and the expense of the tape measure. In the late 1920s, carpenters began slowly adopting H. A. Farrand's design as the one more commonly used. Farrand's new design was a concave/convex tape made of metal which would stand straight out a distance of four to six feet, this design is the basis for most modern tape measures used today.

With the mass production of the integrated circuit (IC) the tape measure has also entered into the digital age with the digital tape measure, some incorporate a digital screen to give measurement readouts in multiple formats. An early patent for this type of measure was published in 1977.[6]

There are also other styles of tape measures that have incorporated lasers and ultrasonic technology to measure the distance of an object with fairly reliable accuracy.

Tape measure's often have black and red measurements on a yellow background as this is the optimal color combination for readability. [7]

United States[edit]

A millimeter-only metric roll-up tape measure being used.

Justus Roe, a surveyor and tape-maker by trade, made the longest tape measure in 1956, at 600 feet (183 m).[8]

The Northern Virginia Surveyors Association presented the 600-foot, gold-plated surveyor's tape measure to Mickey Mantle in 1956.[9]

Some tapes sold in the United States have additional marks in the shape of small black diamonds, which appear every 19.2 inches (488 mm). These are used to mark out equal spacing for joists (five joists or trusses per standard 8-foot (2,438 mm) length of building material).

Many tapes also have special markings every 16 inches (406 mm), which is a standard interval for studs in construction. Three spaces of 16 inches make exactly 4 feet (1,219 mm) which is the commercial width of a sheet of plywood, gyprock or particle board.

It should also be mentioned that the sale of dual metric/customary scale tapes is slowly becoming common in the United States, for example, in some Walmarts there are Hyper Tough brand tapes[10] available in US customary units and Metric units. Unlike US rulers, of which an overwhelming majority contain both cm and inch scales, tape measures are longer and thus traditionally have had scales in both inches and feet + inches. So, inclusion of a metric scale requires the measuring device to either contain 3 scales of measure or the elimination of one of the customary scales.

A dual scale inch/centimeter Stanley tape measure.

The use of millimeter only tape measures for housing construction is a part of the US metric building code[11][12], the use of centimeters is not allowed. Millimeters produce whole (integer) numbers, reduce arithmetic errors, decreasing scrap. Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Cameroon, India, Kenya, Mauritius, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe all use millimeters only as their unit for building construction,[13] the separation between studs is 600 millimeters which has 24 different divisors easing calculation. The metric roll-up tape shown is a millimeter only tape measure, the dual scale Stanley tape measure is US inches and centimeters.

United Kingdom[edit]

Tape measures sold in the UK often have dual scales for metric and imperial units. Like the American tape measures described above, they also have markings every 16 in (40.6 cm) and 19.2 in (48.8 cm).


Tape measures sold in Canada often have dual scales for metric and imperial units. All tapes in imperial units have markings every 16 in (40.6 cm), but not at every 19.2 in (48.8 cm).

In surveying[edit]

Tapes are used in surveying for measuring Horizontal, vertical or slope distances. Tapes are issued in various lengths and widths and graduated in variety of ways,[14] the measuring tapes used for surveying purposes are classified in 4 types according to the material from which they are manufactured:

  1. Linen or Cloth Tape. It is made of linen cloth with brass handle at zero end whose length is included in the tape length, it is very light and handy, but cannot withstand much wear and tear. So it cannot be used for accurate work, it is little used in surveying except for taking subsidiary measurements like offsets.
  2. Metallic Tape. The tape is reinforced with copper wires to prevent stretching or twisting of fibers and is then called as metallic tape, they are available in many lengths but tapes of 20 m and 30 m are more commonly used.[15]
  3. Steel Tape. It is made of steel ribbon varying in width from 6 mm to 16 mm. It is available in lengths of 1, 2, 10, 30 and 50 meters, it cannot withstand rough usage and therefore it should be used with great care.
  4. Invar Tape. It is made of an alloy of steel (64%) and nickel (36%), it is 6 mm wide and is available in lengths of 30 m, 50 m and 100 m. It is costly and delicate and should be thus handled with great care.[16]


  1. ^ Aird, Forbes (1999). Mechanic's guide to precision measuring tools. Osceola, WI: MBI Pub. Co. p. 18. ISBN 9780760305454. 
  2. ^ U. S. Patent Full-Text Database Number Search, Patent #45,372 Retrieved on 23 October, 2017.
  3. ^ Hiram A. Farrand Inc. (Dec 1930). Popular Science. Popular Science Monthly. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  4. ^ Walter W. Jacob (Sep 2004). "Stanley Advertising and Imprinted Tape Rules". The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  5. ^ U. S. Patent Full-Text Database Number Search, Patent #45,372 Retrieved 23 October, 2017.
  6. ^ "Electronic read out tape measure". Google Patents. 21 June 1977. Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  7. ^ "Optimal Colors to Improve Readability for People with Dyslexia - Text Customization for Readability Online Symposium". www.w3.org. Retrieved 2017-09-14. 
  8. ^ "Suffolk County News, Via the Grapevine" (PDF). 13 July 1956. 
  9. ^ Jane Leavy (2010). The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood. HarperCollins. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-06-088352-2. 
  10. ^ "HYPER-TOUGH". 
  11. ^ Metric Design Guide (PBS-PQ260) September 1995 Public Buildings Service U.S. General Services Administration
  12. ^ Metric Implementation in US Construction Andrew J. Holland University of Florida Master's Thesis 1997
  13. ^ The Dimensions of The Cosmos Randy Bancroft Outskirts Press 2016 pg 13
  14. ^ "Surveying tapes". www.tpub.com. 
  15. ^ book on surveying by "Dr. B.c Punmia and Ashok Kumar Jain"
  16. ^ surveying volume 1 by Prof. C.L Kochher, page no. 17

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