B. Rittenhouse Wye Level

This wye level, one of the earliest made in America, is marked "Made by Benjn Rittenhouse." It was made around 1785, and owned by George Gilpin, the chief surveyor for the Potowmack Canal Navigation Company. Although this Canal Company had been organized in 1772, the project was shelved during the Revolution. It was resumed in 1785, and construction began the following year. Thomas Ellicott purchased the level at the sale of Gilpin's estate in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1813, and it remained in his family until its donation to the Smithsonian in 1997. The level vial of this instrument is mounted above the telescope. In the form that would become standard in the 19th century, the level hangs below the telescope.
Ref: Silvio A. Bedini, "The Telescopic Level in Early America," Rittenhouse 11 (1997): 109-123.
Currently not on view
Object Name
level (wye)
Rittenhouse, Benjamin
telescope: 26 in; 66.04 cm
place made
United States: Pennsylvania
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Surveying and Geodesy
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.