Jesse Ramsden

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Jesse Ramsden was a celebrated instrument maker whose honors included fellowship in the Royal Society of London, membership in the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg, and appointment as optician to George III. This engraving is based on an oil portrait by Robert Home (1752-1834) that is now in the collections of the Royal Society. The signature at the bottom reads “I. RAMSDEN, / OPTICIAN TO HIS MAJESTY” and “Painted by R. Home” and “Engraved by John Jones” and “London, Pubd as the Act Directs Jany the 1st 1791 by Molteno Colnaghi & Co. Pall Mall.”
Ramsden appears in a comfortable chair. His right arm rests on the circular dividing engine that he built in the early 1770s in order to produce the graduated arcs for the sextants and octants that would enable British navigators to determine their positions at sea. In the background is the great astronomical circle of 1789 that Ramsden built for the observatory at Palermo, Sicily. Ramsden’s fur coat refers to the instruments commissioned by the Empress of Russia.
The Smithsonian acquired Ramsden’s dividing engine in 1890 through the auspices of Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, and brought this Ramsden portrait in 1892.
Ref: Anita McConnell, Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800), London’s Leading Scientific Instrument Maker (Aldershot, 2007).
J. Elfreth Watkins, "The Ramsden Dividing Engine," Smithsonian Institution Annual Report for 1890, pp. 721-739.
Currently not on view
date made
place made
United Kingdom: England, London
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
overall: 19 3/4 in x 13 3/4 in; 50.165 cm x 34.925 cm
overall: 27 1/2 in x 21 1/2 in x 1 in; 69.85 cm x 54.61 cm x 2.54 cm
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Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Prints from the Physical Sciences Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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