One of Happy Valley’s Most Historic and Revolutionary Innovators Still Going Strong


Image: Cannon Instrument Company

What started out as a research project at Penn State University led to revolutionizing an entire industry. With its deep ties to Happy Valley that date back to the 1930s, when founders Dr. Michael Cannon and Dr. Walter Fenske teamed up to work on a research project together at Penn State, Cannon Instrument Company is now a global leader in viscosity and physical property characterization.

During the 1930s, the two chemical engineering professors were researching the characterization of petroleum products' physical properties. The two came up against multiple measurement errors while using Ostwald manual glass viscometers, the standard device at the time, and ingenuity struck. After theorizing that bending the viscometer could provide more accurate and reliable results, Cannon and Fenske innovated a solution with game-changing potential.

How did it all go down?

First, Dr. Cannon asked the university's glass shop to bend the viscometer glass into the shape he believed would achieve the desired results. After a few attempts, the Cannon-Fenske Viscometer emerged and went on to become the go-to manual glass viscometer. As a result, in 1938, Dr. Cannon founded Cannon Instrument Company, which remains at the forefront of research and development for quality test equipment, while still maintaining the company’s ties to the university.

As Kathleen Humiston, director of marketing, explains, “We are a very old spin-off from Penn State, and we maintain a strong working relationship with other researchers at the university to this day.”

Global Leaders in Measurement Precision

Although the company got its start nearly a century ago, it has remained unwavering in its mission to deliver maximum value to its customers while fanning the flames of its innovative spirit. To aid its mission and vision, Cannon Instruments leverages some of the latest technology, including IoT and additive manufacturing solutions for certain processes and applications.

“Our analytical laboratory instruments are generally viewed as offering the most reliability and highest measurement precision,” says Humiston. “We provide our clients increased up-time and decreased measurement variability. That directly translates to the cost savings for custody transfer of their products, which they measure in our instruments.”

Some of the company’s biggest success have come from the standardization of the use of its instruments across multiple sites and laboratories. Some of its largest clients include the U.S. Army AOAP, Caterpillar and ExxonMobil, to name a few.

“We are a very old spin-off from Penn State, and we maintain a strong working relationship with other researchers at the university to this day.”

But not only does Cannon Instruments have a storied past — it also has a bright future. Its immediate goals are to “first and foremost keep our employees safe while increasing our ability to provide the sales and service support that our customers rely upon.” Humiston notes, “We have been able to continue doing this effectively throughout the pandemic by using a mixture of both remote and in-person visits.”

In October 2020, the company announced the addition of a 12,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art R&D facility. On the upper floor, the facility houses its full R&D team with an “Idea Room” that offers expansive, spectacular views of the region. On the lower floor, there’s a full Applied Sciences and Application Development Laboratory, along with a full CNC prototype fabrication shop and a 3-D and laser-maker room.

While its successes are certainly its own, Cannon Instruments’s location continues to support its longstanding history of innovation. Like many businesses in the area, Cannon Instruments credits its Happy Valley location with providing resources to support its success.

“We enjoy ready access to the talent and knowledge base that a Big Ten school provides,” Humiston says. “Our employees enjoy all of the outdoor activities afforded by Happy Valley, and many are alumni of Penn State and the local high schools.”

Additionally, when international guests come to visit, the company is proud to show off its home turf. As Humiston concludes, “Everyone loves the friendly atmosphere of our company and the area.”

Cannon Instrument Company is an internationally-recognized expert in viscosity characterization. Its products and services provide accuracy, precision and long-term reliability. The company is passionate about fostering a spirit of innovation and providing the ultimate in customer satisfaction. To learn more, visit


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