Instrument Makers: William A. Schmolz

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Article taken from "Backsights" Magazine published by Surveyors Historical Society


by Dale R. Beeks

William Schmolz was born in Stuttgart Germany in 1827.  His first advertisements appear in the San Francisco Daily Herald in 1853 as "Schmolz & Knus".  By 1857 Schmolz was listed by himself located at "118 Mont'y 2nd floor res. S. Post between Kearny & Dupont".

Schmolz recognized the need for an instructional manual for surveyors within the growing region and for the newly developed gold claim properties, and in 1859 published "The Surveyor's and Engineer's Companion...", a booklet which was instructional, including field tables, and an illustrated catalog of instruments which Schmolz sold.

Schmolz' catalog includes a broad offering of instruments which included those made in his shop:  compasses, solar compasses, transits and levels, as well as imported instruments including bullion balances, drawing instruments, quadrants, artificial horizons, European microscopes, magneto-electric machines used for therapeutic purposes, and mountain barometers.  The broad offering represents his familiarity with the trade and the needs of a growing western region.

schmoltz.JPG (67100 bytes)One instrument which Schmolz recommended in his 1859 publication was an early form of surveyors transit in which the compass box is connected to the lower motion.  With this instrument, when an angle is turned on the upper plate, the compass box is stationary with the lower motion.  Schmolz states that there was a "...great advantage to this construction, especially in surveying ranches where such a multiplicity of courses is required...".  This stationary-compass-box transit may have been an adaptation from early railroad and solar compasses which incorporated the motion features.  Few examples exist.

In 1867 Schmolz was granted a patent for the adaptation of William Burts' solar apparatus for use on a transit.  Beginning in 1874 the solar transit instrument was also made and marketed by W. & L. E. Gurley in Troy New York, and until the patent expired in 1884, Gurley paid Schmolz a $5 royalty for each solar transit sold.

Schmolz should be recognized as an important west coast maker.  His longevity in the market attests to his capacity to develop innovative designs, supply the needs of the people, and to successfully market his wares.  Schmolz continued in business until his death in 1891.



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