Fig. 9.  Theory of Planimeter. Fig. 9.

We can now investigate the most general motion of the rod. We again resolve the motion into a number of small steps. Let (fig. 9) AB be one position, CD the next after a step so small that the arcs AC and BD over which the ends have passed may be considered as straight lines. The area generated is ABDC. This motion we resolve into a step from AB to CB′, parallel to AB and a turning about C from CB′ to CD, steps such as have been investigated. During the first, the "roll" will be p the altitude of the parallelogram; during the second will be cθ. Therefore

w = p + cθ.

Fig. 10.  Theory of Planimeter. Fig. 10.

The area generated is lp + ½ l2θ, or, expressing p in terms of w, lw + (½l2 - lc)θ. For a finite motion we get the area equal to the sum of the areas generated during the different steps. But the wheel will continue rolling, and give the whole roll as the sum of the rolls for the successive steps. Let then w denote the whole roll (in fig. 10), and let α denote the sum of all the small turnings θ; then the area is

P = lw + (½l2 - lc)α . . . (1)

Here α is the angle which the last position of the rod makes with the first. In all applications of the planimeter the rod is brought back to its original position. Then the angle α is either zero, or it is 2π if the rod has been once turned quite round.

Hence in the first case we have

P = lw . . . (2a)

and w gives the area as in case of a rectangle.

In the other case

P = lw + lC . . . (2b)

where C = (½l-c)2π, if the rod has once turned round. The number C will be seen to be always the same, as it depends only on the dimensions of the instrument. Hence now again the area is determined by w if C is known.

Fig. 11.  Theory of Planimeter. Fig. 11.

Thus it is seen that the area generated by the motion of the rod can be measured by the roll of the wheel; it remains to show how any given area can be generated by the rod. Let the rod move in any manner but return to its original position. Q and T then describe closed curves. Such motion may be called cyclical. Here the theorem holds: - If a rod QT performs a cyclical motion, then the area generated equals the difference of the areas enclosed by the paths of T and Q respectively. The truth of this proposition will be seen from a figure. In fig. 11 different positions of the moving rod QT have been marked, and its motion can be easily followed. It will be seen that every part of the area TT′BB′ will be passed over once and always by a forward motion of the rod, whereby the wheel will increase its roll. The area AA′QQ′ will also be swept over once, but with a backward roll; it must therefore be counted as negative. The area between the curves is passed over twice, once with a forward and once with a backward roll; it therefore counts once positive and once negative; hence not at all.

In more complicated figures it may happen that the area within one of the curves, say TT′BB′, is passed over several times, but then it will be passed over once more in the forward direction than in the backward one, and thus the theorem will still hold.

Fig. 12.  Amslers Planimeter. Fig. 12.

To use Amsler's planimeter, place the pole O on the paper outside the figure to be measured. Then the area generated by QT is that of the figure, because the point Q moves on an arc of a circle to and fro enclosing no area. At the same time the rod comes back without making a complete rotation. We have therefore in formula (1), α = 0; and hence

P = lw,

which is read off. But if the area is too large the pole O may be placed within the area. The rod describes the area between the boundary of the figure and the circle with radius r = OQ, whilst the rod turns once completely round, making α = 2π. The area measured by the wheel is by formula (1), lw + (½l²-lc) 2π.

To this the area of the circle πr² must be added, so that now

P = lw + (½l²-lc)2π + πr²,


P = lw + C,


C = (½l²-lc)2π + πr²,

is a constant, as it depends on the dimensions of the instrument alone. This constant is given with each instrument.

Fig. 14.  Recording wheel with a sharp edge. Fig. 14. Fig. 13.  Amslers planimeter. Fig. 13.

Amsler's planimeters are made either with a rod QT of fixed length, which gives the area therefore in terms of a fixed unit, say in square inches, or else the rod can be moved in a sleeve to which the arm OQ is hinged (fig. 13). This makes it possible to change the unit lu, which is proportional to l.

In the planimeters described the recording or integrating apparatus is a smooth wheel rolling on the paper or on some other surface. Amsler has described another recorder, viz. a wheel with a sharp edge. This will roll on the paper but not slip. Let the rod QT carry with it an arm CD perpendicular to it. Let there be mounted on it a wheel W, which can slip along and turn about it. If now QT is moved parallel to itself to Q′T′, then W will roll without slipping parallel to QT, and slip along CD. This amount of slipping will equal the perpendicular distance between QT and Q′T′, and therefore serve to measure the area swept over like the wheel in the machine already described. The turning of the rod will also produce slipping of the wheel, but it will be seen without difficulty that this will cancel during a cyclical motion of the rod, provided the rod does not perform a whole rotation.