An archive of optical/mechanical/automated drawing machines/devices/aids

Roulette Geometry (Spirographs)

You probably played with a #Spriograph at some point in your youth, reveling in the seemingly infinite combinations of overlapping arcs and curves you could draw with multi-colored pens. #Denys Fisher may have submitted the #Spirograph patent in 1964, but drawing roulette geometry preceded this plastic drawing toy by centuries. Earliest versions were brass geared contraptions, usually called #Geometric Pens; the earliest is #Giambattista Suardi in 1752. Finely crafted geometric pens were still in production through the late 19th century as drafting tools. In the early 1900s, the audience shifted from professional draftsmen to children. The #Wondergraph (1908) and derivative designs were exhibited in toy fairs, sold through Sears Catalogs, and the subject of craft articles for boys (LINK). By the mid-20th century, roulette drawing tools were craft projects for young woodworkers and enthusiastic users of interchangeable construction systems like #Meccano.

Despite the name, there are no spirals in the mathematical geometry generated by these tools. #Roulette geometry refers to a class of curves including cycloids, epicycloids, hypocycloids, trochoids, involutes and their subsets. Generally speaking, a roulette is a curve described by a point attached to a given curve as that curve rolls, without slipping, along a fixed second curves. These curvilinear conditions make for direct construction of roulettes challenging, but easy when making geared wheels to constrain the stylus.

Dates: 1752 to Present

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Meccanograph no.5.5

Meccano System

Circa 1978

Meccanograph no.4.14

Meccano System

Circa 1970

Instruments or Apparatus (Spirpograph)

Denys Fisher


Meccanograph no.9.2

Meccano System


Meccanograph no.8.12

Meccano System


Hoot-Nanny No. 1

Northern Signal Company (Flo-Tronics)

Circa 1950

Hoot-Nanny No. 2

Northern Signal Company (Flo-Tronics)

Circa 1950

Meccanograph no.8.02

Meccano System


Meccanograph no.8.22

Meccano System



Northern Signal Company (Flo-Tronics)


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