Engraving the Lord's prayer

In 1934, Gorton Machine succeeded in engraving the Lord's prayer in the area the size of the point of a pin. Here is some of the background about this, and about surviving prototype samples.
One of the most remarkable technical feats performed using the company's machines was engraving the Lord's Prayer "in as small an area as possible" in 1934-35. The end result can be legitimately be called 'nano-engraving', and was done via purely mechanical means. The scale of this engraving equals that of 65nm semiconductor manufacturing (lithography) processes. The letters are 1/40,000 of an inch deep (65nm) deep, and 1/10,000 of an inch (258nm) high.
To set the context, various typesetting companies had been passing out samples of type blocks with the Lord's prayer engraved on them as early as 1921 (and very likely earlier) to demonstrate the technical capabilities of their engraving machines. Here are two blocks of type with the Lords' prayer. The one on the top is from American Type Founders; the one on the bottom is by the Lanston Monotype Machine Company.
The American Type Founders claimed that their souvenir was "The most minute type casting ever made", and used Benton Matrix Engraving Machines to achieve this. The block of type is approximately 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch. The face of the type block is magnified approximately 60x.
The Lanston Monotype Machine company made the claim "Smallest Ever Made" claim for the Lord's prayer type, and was first cast in this "smallest ever" size in 1921. They made the additional claim that over five million samples had been given away. The block of type is approximately 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch. The magnification of the type face is approximately 85x.
In 1934, the company began planning for an exhibit for the 1935 National Machine Tool Builders Association show in Cleveland. The show was held every four years, and was a major industry event. This would be the first time the company would exhibit at the show, and the decision was made by George II "to make a lasting impression on as many visitors as possible". The initial concept was to demonstrate the precision of the pantograph line. [GG2mem]
To accomplish this, Fred Knapp was handed the task of "engraving on one or our pantographs the complete Lord's Prayer in as small an area as possible." Fred was described as: "an extra-ordinary person;...skillful, painstaking and patient worker". By accounts, the project turned into an endurance test because it was so challenging. The initial engraving was done in a 1/16th inch circle, and from there, was further reduced. The final result was within a circle of .005" in diameter, and the final engraving took about six weeks to complete. The technical details are described in the brochure; suffice it to say that the heat from a lightbulb was sufficient to cause the cutter point to shift away from the engraving within an hour of being adjusted. Vibration from other machines within the building was sufficient enough to require four 3" thick rubber cushions to be placed under the machine.
The final engraving was done within a circle 0.005" in diameter, and housed in a box with a low-voltage electric bulb and a 400x microscope to enable the engraving to be read.
As of June, 2004, the show exhibit of this engraving is in a cabinet in the posession of Famco Machine (see above).

Non-final copies of the engraving

An article in the November 30, 1975 Racine Journal Times also indicates that in addition to the final "show" versions, two other copies of the effort exist, and are in the Knapp family. One is .0085" diameter, the other is .005" diameter.
Additionally, at least four other "large" scale copies (0.01" in diameter) exist as of 2010 - they were "rediscovered" by family members in late 2009. Based upon a note found in the box with the engravings, it is possible that yet another copy is held by family members, and that the Swenki family may hold another copy. Joseph A. Swenki worked at Gorton Machine at the time, and subsequently at Gormac Products, eventually becoming President of Gormac.
Unfortunately, many of these have not fared well. Indeed, accidental contact with the surface of one of these basically obliterated it. These are all images taken at 230x resolution with a digital microscope.
The bases of each of these are only 5/8 inch across, and less than an inch high.

photographs of 'large' copies

And the one which was accidentally damaged in Feb, 2010 (before and after)

Even acquiring the images above were challenging. The first attempts to do the imaging were done with an "eye-clops" (200x, digital microscope) and did not work well, simply due to the lack of stability of a hand-held mechanism. The next attempt was with a conventional binocular microscope at 70X magnification, but that was insufficient to show anything. The follow-on was with a digital inspection microscope, also with insufficient magnification. Yet another attempt was made with a 400X x-ray microscope, but the small size of the target area confounded the imaging. Finally, a variable magnification USB digital microscope was acquired (a Dino-Lite AM411T). Just as with the original effort, vibration was a problem (note the repurposed silicone hot-pads and felt pads applied to the "normal" microscope feet). Building an adaptor to enable fine-grained focus control was clearly the best way to go. And yes, that is a pig with wings to the left of the microscope. Note the use of CD cases to provide incremental vertical spacing to help with the focus.

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Copyright, 2004 - 2015 Richard Gorton - rcgorton@verizon.net
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