Peirce Gravity Pendulum No. 2

Charles Sanders Peirce, a practicing scientist as well as a proponent of philosophical pragmatism, began the gravity program of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in the early 1870s, at a time when his father was superintendent of the Survey. This was the first gravity program in the United States. After acquiring Kater-type and Repsold pendulums (some of which are in the Smithsonian collections), Peirce designed a pendulum in the form of an elongated ellipsoid. He chose this form after studying Stokes's theory of the motion of a pendulum in a viscous medium. Peirce's pendulum was invariable and reversible. Because of its heavy weight and freedom from irregularities, it could swing for hours before coming to rest.
The Coast and Geodetic Survey built four Peirce pendulums of this sort in 1881-1882. Two are in the Smithsonian collections. This one is marked "Peirce No. 2 USC&G Survey."
Ref: Victor Lenzen and Robert Multhauf, "Development of Gravity Pendulums in the 19th Century," United States National Museum Bulletin 240 (1965): 301-348.
Carolyn Eisele, "Charles S. Peirce. Nineteenth Century Man of Science," Scripta Mathematica 24 (1959): 305-324.
E. D. Preston, "Determinations of Gravity and the Magnetic Elements in Connection with the United States Expedition to the West Coast of Africa, 1889-90," Report of the Superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey for 1889-90, Appendix 12.
Currently not on view
Object Name
gravity pendulum
date made
overall: 62 in x 2 3/4 in; 157.48 cm x 6.985 cm
place made
United States: District of Columbia, Washington
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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