Repsold Gravity Pendulum

In the late 1840s, Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, a noted German mathematician and astronomer, designed a pendulum that was invariable and reversible. Repsold in Hamburg began making pendulums of this sort in the early 1860s, and the International Association of Geodesy unanimously recommended their use. At the urging of Charles Sanders Peirce, the U.S. Coast Survey ordered one of these instruments in 1872. While in Europe in 1875, Peirce took possession of the pendulum, and swung it in Geneva, Paris, Berlin, and the Kew Observatory near London. Back in the United States, he swung it again at the Stevens Institute, in Hoboken, New Jersey.
The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (as it had become) transferred the remains of this important instrument to the Smithsonian in 1955. They include three vertical rods of the tripod; the vertical member that once held a graduated scale; the vertical member that once held a telescope for viewing the scale; and one other small piece.
Ref: Victor Lenzen and Robert Multhauf, "Development of Gravity Pendulums in the 19th Century," United States National Museum Bulletin 240 (1965): 301-348.
[C. S. Peirce], "Measurements of Gravity at Initial Stations in America and Europe," Report of the Superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey for the Year Ending with June 1876, app. 15.
Joh. A. Repsold, Zur Geschichte der Astronomischen Messwerkzeuge von 1830 bis um 1900 (Leipzig, 1914), vol. 2, p. 27.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1875
place made
Deutschland: Hamburg, Hamburg
overall: poles: 47 in x 2 in x 1 in; 119.38 cm x 5.08 cm x 2.54 cm
overall: connector: 3 1/2 in x 1 in x 2 3/4 in; 8.89 cm x 2.54 cm x 6.985 cm
overall: point pole a: 40 in x 1 1/2 in; 101.6 cm x 3.81 cm
overall: pointed pole b: 46 in x 4 in x 2 1/2 in; 116.84 cm x 10.16 cm x 6.35 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey
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Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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