Zenith Telescope

The earliest evidence of this instrument comes from Andrew Ellicott, who in 1796 used "a small zenith sector of 20 inches radius" to determine the latitude of the Erie, Pennsylvania (the former French landing at Presqu'Isle). Ellicott used this instrument again in 1796-1800 when he surveyed the southern boundary of the United States. He described it as a "zenith sector of 19 inches radius to be used when the utmost accuracy was not necessary, and where the transportation of the large one could not be effected without great expense and difficulty."
Ellicott took this instrument with him to West Point, when he became professor of mathematics at the U.S. Military Academy in 1813. A descendant, Andrew Ellicott Douglass, deposited it with the Smithsonian Institution in 1898.
Ref: Andrew Ellicott, "Observations made on the Old French Landing at Presqu'Isle, to determine the Latitude of the Town of Erie," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 4 (1799): 231-232.
Andrew Ellicott, "Astronomical and Thermometrical Observations, made on the Boundary between the United States and his Catholic Majesty," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 5 (1802): 204.
Currently not on view
Object Name
zenith sector
zenith telescope
telescope: 19 in; 48.26 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Measuring & Mapping
Surveying and Geodesy
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Surveying and Geodesy
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
American Philosophical Society. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society
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