May 12 reminds the US day of the odometer (National Odometer Day ) to the invention of an everyday object which is commonly used to measure a distance traveled. The following lines shed light on what this is all about in detail and why this historical odometer day of honor deserves its own entry in the calendar of curious holidays from all over the world.
What is an Odometer?
First, a few general remarks on the odometer. Derived from the ancient Greek hodós and métron (μέτρον – dt. Measure), this device describes an odometer with which a distance covered is measured mechanically – regardless of whether with a vehicle or on foot. The term hodometry as the science of mechanical displacement measurement is derived from this.
The most well-known and probably most widespread form today is found in the odometer of vehicles, which is an integral part of the speedometer, but must not be confused with it. The speedometer measures the vehicle speed, the odometer the distance covered. Other special forms of odometers can be found, for example, as pedometers (step counter) or taximeters (measuring the amount of money to be paid for a taxi ride)
Why does National Odometer Day fall on May 12th?
Unfortunately, even in the case of National Odometer Day, it is completely unclear who started it and since when exactly it has been celebrated by our transatlantic neighbors. On the other hand, there is at least one specific indication for choosing the date on May 12th.
Because on May 12, 1847, the pioneer and Mormon William Clayton (1844 – 1879) is said to have invented the first version of the modern odometer . At a time when he pulled his covered wagon through the vast expanses of the North American continent west from Missouri to what is now the US state of Utah.
Whether it beyond a connection (Engl. National Limerick Day) for crimes committed today also the day of Limerick, the International Day of multiple chemical sensitivity (Engl. International Awareness Day for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity), the International Day of Care (Engl. International Nurses Day) or the British day of the cucumber (English National Cucumber Day), I am not able to say on the other hand.
For National Odometer Day: William Clayton and the Invention of the Modern Odometer
Be that as it may, prior to Clayton’s invention, the distance traveled by such tracks was measured in a relatively primitive way using the revolutions of a red flag attached to the spokes of covered wagons. That means the travelers simply had to count and record their results. In this way, they were able to roughly calculate the covered or planned distance by multiplying the (counted) revolutions with the wheel circumference of the covered wagon.
If one can believe Clayton’s diary entries, after three weeks he must have been quite annoyed by this procedure and looked for an automated solution, which he finally found together with the mathematician Orson Pratt (1843 – 1881) who was traveling with him. So they had the carpenter Appleton Milo Harmon (1820 – 1877) construct an apparatus for the covered wagon that automatically counted the revolutions of the wagon wheel and was protected from external influences in a wooden box. They called these roadometers .
And although similar constructions were already known in European antiquity and in ancient China, the invention of the modern odometer is mainly attributed to William Clayton and his colleagues.
Attentive readers will of course notice that this special day continues the series of curious holidays, which also have a patent or invention as a background. As an example, reference is made to the following dates:
the day of earmuffs (National Earmuff Day) on March 13,
the day of the Eiffel Tower (National Eiffel Tower Day) on March 31st,
the day of the Bunsen burner (Bunsen Burner Day) on March 31,
the day of vitamin C (Vitamin C Day) on April 4,
the day of Teflon (National Teflon Day) on April 6th,
the International Day of the safety pin (International Safety Pin Day) on 10 April
the US Day of waffle (National Waffle Day) on 24 August.
With this in mind: In honor of William Clayton, take a look at the mileage on your speedometer today.