From Stone to Milligram, Evolution of a Precision Balance
The balance in literal form is an equal arm beam scale. If you close your eyes, you can probably imagine the single brass beam with a shallow cup hanging from each end. The concept is so simple that it did not really require an ‘inventor,’ it more likely represents a ‘discovery,’ like fire, or the wheel.
Dating back to approximately 5000 BCE, the simple equal-arm balance served as the starting point for science, discovery, and trade. For 7000 years, this scale design remains one of the most accurate of instruments even though it works on the simplest principle of mechanics.
The first weights were stones. A trader could use a balance to calculate how many of his stones a specific amount of goods equaled, and then carry these stones with him to verify the weight of goods traded for while traveling, three stones of meat at home equal three stones of meat on the road. As this technique evolved the need for a more consistent trade tool became apparent. Early Mediterranean traders noticed that liquorice seeds rarely wavered when checked against each other on a balance so these seeds became trade tools. They also graduated stones to these seeds creating a primitive system of measure. For example, one stone equals ten seeds.
Metals that allowed for minute increments of measure replaced stones and seeds allowing the early apothecary to hone his formulas for material medica. The physical sciences all blossomed with the help of accurate measurements, while these same measurements allowed for the creation of currency. Now, instead of merely verifying the weight of something, you could ‘trade’ for it with a specific weight of a valuable metal.
Science and trade provided the scale maker with substantial incentive, and the accuracy of these essential tools continued to improve but the simple idea remained. Even today, the Imperial measurement system remains even though modern minds make more sense out of the Metric system. You see, the Imperial measures are ‘base two.’ One, two, four, eight, and so on, the influence of the balance is obvious—two on one side, one on the other.
The two-pan version of the equal arm balance, the substitution balance, the single arm balance, and other slightly varied versions of mechanical balances—even with their incredible accuracy—eventually were replaced by the electronic balance.
Today, the electronic balance is more common simply because of practicality. Mechanical balances could be used to measure milligrams for instance, but imagine what a chore it would be stacking the little weights into the pan each time. There are some easier to use mechanical balance scales—like the one your doctor has you stand on—but for precision measurements they end up requiring too much re-calibration and with precision electronic balances being what they are today, why bother.
The influence of the balance exists almost everywhere. Even things that do not need a proper measure do have a value, and we use currency to represent that value—thanks to the balance. The reasons for having a precision balance are limitless, but when you depend on that balance for a living, you use a Torbal. Since 1887, Torbal has been building the finest balances you can buy. Their precision electronic balances are in laboratories, schools, pharmacies, factories, and in small shops where artisans make perfect parts for things like clocks and bicycles.
For the best scales and balances with lifetime tech support, contact Torbal today. To keep up with the latest news follow Torbal @scales_balances, and to join in the conversation find Torbal on Facebook and Google+.