History of CANNON

History of CANNON

In the mid-1930’s two Chemical Engineering professors from Penn State University, Dr. Michael Cannon and Dr. Walter Fenske, worked on a U.S government research project characterizing the physical properties of petroleum products.

 Dr. Cannon and Dr. Fenske used an Ostwald manual glass viscometer, common at the time, to make kinematic viscosity measurements for their project. Soon however, they discovered measurement errors associated with the viscometer. They found that even the slightest tilt of the viscometer in the constant temperature bath affected the accuracy of the viscosity measurement. The issue stemmed from the out-flow reservoir (larger bulb of the viscometer) not being in the same vertical plane as the timing bulb (smaller bulb of the viscometer).  The professors theorized that the issue could be resolved by bending the viscometer into a different geometry, so Dr. Cannon asked Penn State’s glass shop (which made scientific glassware for the university’s chemistry department) to bend several Ostwald Viscometers into a geometry that he believed would eliminate the vertical alignment problems. After some trial and error, Dr. Cannon tested a prototype viscometer in his Penn State laboratory that provided the desired results. This new viscometer geometry later became known as the Cannon-Fenske Routine Viscometer.  (Although the professors did not realize it at the time, the Cannon-Fenske Routine Viscometer would revolutionize kinematic viscosity measurement and ultimately lead to the development of not only a company, but an entire industry. It has become the most widely used manual glass viscometer in the world.)

CANNON-Fenske Ostwald


Dr. Cannon, already an active member of ASTM D02, took his new viscometer to a committee meeting and presented it.  Many colleagues expressed interest in his work and the Cannon-Fenske viscometer. Ever the entrepreneur, Dr. Cannon collected the names of those interested in trying the new viscometer and returned to the university.  He had the glass shop make more viscometers but as interest grew in his viscometer design, a problem arose. The fabrication of Dr. Cannon’s viscometers impacted the shop’s ability to make other scientific apparatuses.  The dean of the university eventually told Dr. Cannon to find another way to make his viscometers. As the story goes, Dr. Cannon went home and advised his wife that the garage was no longer for parking their automobile!  He outsourced production of the glass viscometers, but performed calibration, cleaning, and packaging in his own garage.  This marked the birth of Scientific Development Company. As time went on and his business continued to grow, Dr. Cannon hired one of his graduate students, Dr. Robert Manning, to assist with calibration, packaging and shipping of the glass viscometers.  Ultimately, Dr. Cannon also decided to expand his product line by adding constant temperature baths. In 1938, he formed CANNON Instrument Company and maintained Scientific Development Company for work on special projects.

Dr. Cannon (and later, Dr. Manning) continued to grow CANNON’s business by adding new products to address industry needs gleaned from their active participation in professional organizations such as ASTM and SAE. He and Dr. Manning were instrumental in creating and developing the ASTM test method for kinematic viscosity, ASTM D445, as well as the manual glass viscometer specifications now known as ASTM D446. After Dr. Cannon’s untimely death in the mid 1960’s, his wife Betty took over management of the company and Dr. Manning took over as the Technical Director.

Still located in close proximity to Penn State University, CANNON Instrument Company’s 100 employees now manufacture a wide range of viscosity-related products in its modern and efficient State College, PA manufacturing facility. CANNON provides its products to customers worldwide through its domestic sales team and a network of 40 authorized dealers. It also offers design, engineering and support services through a technical staff of more than 20 scientists and engineers.

  • 1938: CANNON Instrument Company is incorporated in the State of Pennsylvania
  • 1958: CANNON commercializes primary viscosity standards at NBS’s (National Bureau of Standards, later NIST) request
  • 1958: CANNON initiates cooperative KinVis lab proficiency program at request of ASTM D02
  • 1968: CANNON develops the Cold-Cranking Simulator for SAE Winter-Grade Engine Oils
  • 1974: CANNON launches the world’s first fully-automated viscometer – the CAV®
  • 1980: CANNON develops the Mini-Rotary viscometer for SAE Winter-Grade Engine Oils
  • 1984: CANNON purchased by Arthur H. Thomas (owner of Thomas Scientific and LaMotte). Dr. Manning appointed CANNON’s president.
  • 1990: CANNON moves to new 30,000 ft2 facility
  • 1995: CANNON expands with new 5,000 ft2 laboratory
  • 2000: CANNON develops new CAV®-2000 automated viscometer
  • 2004: NIST designates CANNON for dissemination of national viscosity reference standards and maintenance of the U.S. primary viscosity reference scale
  • 2005: CANNON introduces new miniAV® line of mid-market automated viscometers
  • 2009: CANNON develops automated KV unit under $7,000 for industrial use
  • 2014: CANNON launches the 4th generation CAV® viscometer

CANNON takes pride in the recognition it has received for its quality systems and its strong ties to many technical trade associations. 

  • Registrations include
    • ISO 9001:2000 registration by DQS/UL
    • ISO 17025 Accreditation by A2LA for Laboratory Proficiency in Viscosity Measurement and Calibration
    • ISO Guide 34 & 35 Accreditation for bottling of reference standards
    • NIST recognized laboratory – responsible for U.S dissemination of viscosity standards and calibrations
    • NIST/NVLAP Quality Assessments – 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015
  • National / International Recognition
    • Pilot laboratory for ASTM Cooperative Kinematic Viscosity Program since early 1950’s
    • Participation in International NMi Key Comparisons
  • Technical Trade Affiliations
    • ASTM – American Society of Testing & Materials
    • ISO – International Standards Organization
    • SAE – Society of Automotive Engineers
    • ASQ & NCSLI – American Quality Organizations
    • STLE – Society Tribology and Lubrication Engineering
    • BIPM – International Org. of Weights & Measures
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