Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center

 
Physical Sciences Collection - Surveying and Geodesy

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D. Rittenhouse

David Rittenhouse (1732–1796) was a skilled clock and instrument maker, accomplished man of science, and active American patriot. He was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, near the paper mill that his paternal grandfather had built in 1690—the first paper mill in North America—but spent most of his youth on the family farm in nearby Norriton. Here he made numerous 8-day tall case clocks, two wonderful orreries (mechanical models of the solar system), and some surveyor’s compasses. Only six compasses with a ‘D’ or ‘David’ Rittenhouse signature are known today, and four of these have experimental elements of one sort or another.

The Rittenhouse house at Norriton was one of the major observing stations for the transit of Venus of 1769. In 1770 Rittenhouse was "encouraged" to move to Philadelphia, some 20 miles away, "to take a lead in a manufacture, optical and mathematical, which never had been attempted in America, and [which] drew thousands of pounds to England for instruments, often ill-furnished." In Philadelphia, he was an active member of the American Philosophical Society and, following the death of Benjamin Franklin in 1790, he was elected president that organization. He was a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London. He served as professor at and trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. And he surveyed several state boundaries. During the Revolution, Rittenhouse served as an engineer for the Committee of Safety, vice president of the Council of Safety, and president of the Board of War for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and was a member of the state’s first Constitutional Convention. He served as Treasurer of Pennsylvania for 13 years, and later as Director of the United States Mint (this was seen as a great honor, as Isaac Newton had served as Master of the Mint in London).

Ref: Brooke Hindle, David Rittenhouse (Princeton University Press, 1964).

Jeff Locke, "Construction Details of Rittenhouse Compasses," Professional Surveyor (December 2001): 28-34.

Collection:

Surveyor's Compass marked Rittenhouse PHILADELPHIA
Surveyor's Vernier Compass marked David Rittenhouse Philadelphia
Zenith Telescope