Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center

Physical Sciences Collection - Surveying and Geodesy

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Surveyor's Compass - click to enlarge

Surveyor's Compass - click to enlarge

Surveyor's Compass - click to enlarge

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Surveyor's Compass

Catalogue number:


Length overall 12.625 inches; needle 5.375 inches


Benjamin Hanks (1755-1824) apprenticed with Thomas Harland, an English clock maker who had recently migrated to Norwich, Connecticut. By 1777 Hanks was in business on his own in Windham, Connecticut. Like many American mechanics of that time, Hanks applied his skills in several directions. While specializing in clocks and watches, for instance, he asked the General Assembly to supply funds so that he could construct looms for weaving stockings. Hanks moved to Litchfield in 1780, and advertised surveyor's compasses in 1785. In 1786 he began casting bells. In 1808, now living in Mansfield and working in partnership with his son Julius, Hanks was making vernier compasses or, as he advertised, "surveyor's compasses upon the Rittenhouse improved plan."

This compass was probably made early in Hanks's career. The face reads clockwise, and the bar is narrow. One unusual feature is the clinometer scale at the south end of the face, which could be used to measure vertical angles; the clinometer needle is missing.

Ref: Penrose R. Hoopes, Connecticut Clockmakers of the Eighteenth Century (Hartford, 1930), pp. 79-83.

Charles E. Smart, American Surveying Instruments and Their Makers (Troy, 1962), pp. 70-71.

Further Information:

Surveyor's Compass