Pedometer from the Estate of William G. Micke
Drawing of Leonardo da Vinci's pedometer
Manpo-kei pedometer

Artifact of the Month

The pocket watch that isn't

It seems like every time we visit the doctor, they are encouraging us to get more exercise.  The standard of the day is to get in 10,000 steps (5 miles) every day.  What was once a tool for sports and fitness enthusiasts to record their steps has now become the standard among those wanting accountability for their movement.  We have electronic gadgets such as fitness trackers worn on the wrist and apps for our smart phones to log every step we take during the day.  Some even give us gentle reminders that we are not moving enough to reach our daily goal. 

The concept of a pedometer dates back to the 1400s, when an illustration by Leonardo da Vinci showed a device used by the Roman military to calculate the approximate daily distance troops traveled by foot.  In 1777, Swiss inventor, Abraham-Louis Perrelet built a device that measured walking distance based off a watch he designed that wound when the wearer walked.  Others have also been credited for inventing the pedometer, but it was John Harwood, of Great Britain who was awarded the first patent for a pedometer in 1924.  In 1965, Dr. Yoshiro Hatano, a Japanese professor of health science invented a pedometer he named the Manpo-kei (10,000-step meter).  Dr. Hatano believed that walking 10,000 steps a day would help Japanese people avoid obesity.  More than fifty years later his marketing campaign has kept people keeping track of their steps ever since.

While today’s fitness trackers rely on digital technology, early pedometers like this one from the William G. Micke Collection, uses a swinging pendulum to count steps. The New Haven Clock Company made this pedometer, in a 1.75″ diameter silver case, in the early 20th century.  It clipped onto a belt or waistband.  With every step taken, a pendulum swings to one side and back again.  This swinging motion causes a gear to advance one position moving the hand around the dial.  The main dial tracks up to ten miles in quarter mile increments, while the smaller dial reads counter-clockwise, marking up to 100 miles.

Description of Collections

The San Joaquin County Historical Museum maintains a collection of objects representative of the history of San Joaquin County.  These objects include:
  • Furnishings and household goods from the family of Capt. Charles M. Weber
  • Furnishings and household goods of William and Julia Micke
  • Textiles, quilts, clothing, and Chinese theatrical costumes
  • Native Peoples baskets and objects
  • Toys and recreational equipment
  • Tractors and agricultural equipment
  • Tools, wagons, and motor vehicles

The San Joaquin County Historical Society accepts donations of artifacts, photographs, and documents on behalf of the County of San Joaquin.  Donations to the collection are accepted based on their relevance to the social, political, agricultural, industrial, technological, economic, and cultural heritage of San Joaquin County.

For more information about donating artifacts contact Julie Blood, Collections and Exhibits Manager at  


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