Monteath’s Tree Measurer | Scotland (1820)

1376170-6405352 - Lund Sydnie - May 3, 2016 330 PM - Lund_image

“Monteath’s Newly Invented Machine for Measuring Growing Trees”, by W.H. Lizars, retrieved from Memorial Library Special Collections

Monteath’s Device for Measuring Growing Trees

By Sydnie Lund

Humans have impacted this planet in many ways, good and bad, for thousands of years, from the start of fire to the Industrial Revolution. There are many objects that humans have created that are used to try and help the environment or there are objects that were created for human purpose which are unknowingly destroying the environment. This is an epoch of human control and alteration of the natural system of the Earth; The Anthropocene. One controversial object in particular has aspects of both, continuing into todays society because of its influences. A machine for measuring growing trees, this tool was created in 1820, by Robert Monteath. This is a unique tool with many gadgets such as springs, triangle pieces and pins. The circumference, height and length can be measured using this tool and its handy devices. Now, does this tool have a significance in the Anthropocene and impacting the natural world? Yes, it has major impacts, good and bad for any reasons. The tool creates a controversy of benefits and drawbacks to the environment. The benefits are that they help us gain a better understanding on how fast different species grow, how large they get and even why or how trees stop growing. The downside is that it helps the timber industry and also what trees are best to tear down, for example, trees in tropical rain forests. Monteaths unique object remarkably measured growing trees which allowed for the timber industry to skyrocket, changed the natural occurrence of trees to be altered as well as educated us about how to recover and understand differences amongst the many species of trees. Monteaths machine for measuring growing trees allows for many advantages for humans that could help or destroy the environment in a variety of possible ways.

Monteaths machine for measuring growing trees had aspects that made it beneficial to the environment such as helping us learn about the differences in trees, growing process of trees and even when or why trees stop growing. These are benefits that can help to recover populations of trees that were cut down. One benefit of this tool in the 19th century was to help differentiate trees especially timber trees, and to get measurements of their size. The object also could have an impact on determining whether a tree was done growing. For instance, if the tree stopped growing, was it to the maximum measurements, and if not what was preventing it? This could be from disease, there are many trees being infected by insects. According to Riley’s work in 1884, there were fruit and vegetable crops infected with American insects that were causing it injury. This is bad because even today in Wisconsin, the emerald ash borer is dying from a disease caused by insects. There is definitely a future of problems with trees and their health that needs to be studied. This object gave us more knowledge on species of trees and more information on their growing periods and how potentially large trees could get. Without the knowledge of distinguishing trees and knowing their size how would humans even know trees were in trouble without visual evidence? This tool had the potential to change the way research has been conducted ever since it was created. This device is no longer being used but is a take-off to new technology, which has advanced since the 19th century. The main focus of this tool was unfortunately related to the timber industry, but the knowledge it provided made loggers and scientist alike more equipped to handle the issues related to trees with advanced technologies today.

Timber is one natural resource that is used for human consumption in an extreme amount. Sadly, this is a downside that the tool contributes to the Anthropocene. “Today, with only half as much forest left… finds himself landless…” (Myers, 555). Myers explains in this quote that humans are finding themselves in a dilemma of not having enough land with trees or to grow enough timber. Timber is in high demand in many areas of the world and is cultivated in even more, from tree farms to tropical rain forests. This object has had a tremendous impact on the way humans live and it changed the timber industry and producers who need sizable trees. The timber industry is huge, the life of humans would be completely different if there wasn’t enough rapidly available timber. Cutting the life expectancy short isn’t good, it causes land to be over cultivated, this tool gave us comprehensions on the growing capacity and in all gave us information on the largest plant species on the earth. According to the Arun Agrawal the demand for timber is increasing and growing competition makes it harder to control. This means the consumption of timber is increasing and therefore more trees will need to be torn down or regrown in areas. Forests cover 31% of land on this earth, only about one third, and this number will only shrink if not maintained. Unfortunately, this tool is helping the industry by giving mankind knowledge on the types of trees to cut down, how fast and large they can grow. This tools capabilities were remarkable, therefore, increasing the amount of timber available to people allowed for the human population to expand and grow. For example, William Robbins writes about the Douglas-fir, a tree in the Pacific Rain Forest and the arrival transcontinental rail system helped attract timber capitalists in the 19th century. This captures how fast the industry grew, this growth from the new technology gives rise to the growth in population of humans which will continue to grow. The Transcontinental Rail System reshaped the land, including flattening many trees. Looking at the Anthropocene, people need to be aware of where the timber is distributed and how much is used in different places, because there are more places that are overusing and others that are underusing.

Timber is not extracted from every ecosystem, but all ecosystems face the challenges of fluctuating climate and temperatures. The tool created many consequences to the natural world by helping with the timber industry and also deforestation of many huge, rare trees, which causes losses in forests and organisms. According to the WWF, “some 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year-equivalent to 48 football fields every minute”. This is a truly astonishing fact that shows how ecosystems have been lost. Deforestation releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which depletes the ozone layer. As the ozone diminishes, temperatures rise and climates change to extreme weather patterns. And resulting the number of species that have become extinct because of habitat degradation and land that is overused for the consumption of timber. For emphasis on all species that are greatly effected by deforestation, an example that is known by most, is the Orangutan. Most might not know that the orangutan is only found in the lowland forests of Asia and their habitat and food sources are being eliminated.

These consequences are greater than the benefits this tool could have brought the human population. However, the timber industry does favor and benefit certain places that are economically stable and advanced. There are Anthropos, or people who are part of these problems, contributing to destruction of ecosystems, species and land unconsciously and consciously. Monteaths machine for measuring growing trees illustrates the Anthropocene in ways that are advantages to humans and also created destruction to the environment that have the possibility of never being fixed. Looking at the orangutan or the endless amounts of species that are effected by deforestation helps paint a vivid picture of the reality of the timber industry today. Monteaths tool might have brought us knowledge’s but did it bring us the correct ones? The Anthropocene is an epoch of human domination, and from the creation of this tool led to the vast timber industry that relies on the habitats of many vulnerable species. The use of lumber has been going on for many centuries and will continue too. This is an example of gradualism, events happening over a long time period and goes unnoticed as a problem. This concept is good because it allows for analysis of the past and how we can learn about it, but it is also bad because it is a slow consistent change occurring that is hard to stop. Today, after technology advancement, much more timber expended and more species becoming endangered all started with the knowledge’s this tool brought us.



  • Monteath, Robert. The Foresters Guide. Journal Office: C. Munro & Co., 1820. 206-210.
  • Robbins, William G.. 1999. Review of Clearcutting the Pacific Rain Forest: Production, Science, and RegulationPacific Historical Review 68 (3). University of California Press: 490–91. doi:10.2307/4492358.
  • Myers, Norman. 1997. Review of Tropical Deforestation: The Human Dimension..Journal of Ecology 85 (4). [Wiley, British Ecological Society]: 554–555. doi:10.2307/2960588.
  • Agrawal, Arun, and Ashwini Chatre and Rebecca Hardin. “Changing Goverance of the Worlds Forests.” Science (2008):1460-1462
  • Riley, C. V. “Agriculture: Insects in relation to Agriculture.” Zoology (1884): 135-142
  • World Wildlife Fund. “Forests: Overview”. WWF-Peru/Enrigue-Castro-Mendivil. 2016. Accessed April 25, 2016.