Rolling Over 166 Years: The Odometer Celebrates Another Birthday

By Jacob Brown | May 13, 2013
For thousands of years, people have been trying to figure out just how far they've traveled. Some would measure the circumference of a wheel, tying a piece of cloth around a spoke and figuring out how many times the wheel went around during a trip. Even Leonardo da Vinci tried his luck at creating an odometer for carriages, but he couldn't quite get his gears to work right. It wasn't until May 12, 1847, that a Mormon pioneer named William Clayton created what we know today as the modern odometer when he was crossing the plains to Utah, at least we assume, because that's where he ended up settling later in life. With a gear set hooked into the hub, he was able to measure just how far his covered wagon had traveled. Now, as the U.S. Census Bureau reminds us, it's everywhere. Trucks, on average, travel 26,000 miles per year. Larger cars travel 15,000 miles per year, and smaller cars, trucks, and SUVs record somewhere around 10,500 miles a year. And where odometers were once scroll wheels, many have become digital. The word "odometer" comes from the Greek words "hodos"--path--and "metron," which means to measure. With some of civilization's greatest minds--from Chinese scientists thousands of years ago to Renaissance geniuses--it's incredible that a clerk who emigrated from England for--what else--religious freedom was the one who finally figured out how to best record distances we travel, inventing something many rely on for their jobs and can't live without. Thank you, Mr. Clayton, and happy birthday to your invention, the odometer.'s take: How many miles are on your odometer? Sound off in the comments below! Source: U.S. Census Bureau
  • Odometer Display