Launch Slideshow

50-year Stanley Tape Measure

50-year Stanley Tape Measure

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    The first of five commemorative tapes from Stanley.

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    The Lufkin Donut has a 6-foot stainless steel blade. It probably cost plenty new.

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    The Donut was aptly named. Homer Simpson's grandpa probably had one of these.

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    Front view of Lufkin Pee-Wee 8-foot tape

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    Lufkin Pee-Wee from the back; now we know it's old!

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    Another round tape. Never heard of Monitor. Nice metal case, though.

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    It says made by Master. I wonder if that's the same company that makes locks.

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    No one knew it at the time, but this is when things began to go wrong. Look it's partially metric.

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    A give-away item.

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    This tape was made by Zippo. I guess people used to like to light things on fire and then measure them.

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    Uh-oh, more metric. Time to light something on fire.

This tape probably won't last half a century on the jobsite but in a sense, it already has.

The PowerLock tape is turning 50, and to celebrate Stanley will be issuing a series of commemorative tapes that highlight the history of this measuring device. Why is it interesting that the PowerLock line stretches back to 1963? Picture what it was like to work in the trades in 1962. If you owned a tape, odds are the blade was short and you had to feed it back into the case by hand. No wonder most tradesmen still used folding wooden rules.

The PowerLock's claim to fame is that it was the first tape with a coiled spring to retract the blade and a sliding lock button to hold it in place — which means nearly every modern tape is in some sense descended from that 1963 tool.

I wanted to show you a photo of a 1963 PowerLock but was unable to find one. But I did find a guy who sells vintage tapes, and some of his inventory is pretty unusual — like the Lufkin Donut. You can see the Donut and other early tapes in the slideshow on the left-hand side of this page. The first photo came from Stanley, the rest were provided by Cliff Rispoli of Rare Possessions.