The Weight of the Matter

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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For thousands of years, gross and net weights have helped determine prices on livestock, products and raw materials. It’s an essential part of business that spans from the smallest to the largest items. As with retailers and wholesale operations all over the U.S. today, certified scales were essential to business transactions throughout early America.
Wagon scales, in particular, were used in both pit and pitless configurations. In each scenario, the wagon would be driven across a large, flat and balanced surface which was connected to the balance beam of a scale. The vehicle would be weighed both empty as well as with the entire load. The difference between the two sums told the scale operator the amount of material in the wagon.
Other than images from century-old advertisements, it’s difficult to find these types of scales today. Since many of these wagon scales sat outside, they have typically succumbed to the deteriorating effects of time and weather.
The circa 1880 scale and housing shown here is part of an interpretive presentation within a small portion of the Wheels That Won The West® collection. Incredibly, the scales were found packed inside wooden shipping boxes, still in their original straw and paper wrappings; a rare, unused find that helps reinforce the legendary purpose and legacy of heavier, wood wheeled horse drawn vehicles.
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