Duplex Pendulum Seismograph

This carries a paper label marked: “Made from the Designs of Professor Ewing of Dundee, by the California Electric Works, 35 Market street, San Francisco; and recommended for use in California by Professor LeConte of Berkeley and by Professor Holden, Director of the Lick Observatory.”
James Alfred Ewing was a young Scottish physicist/engineer who, while teaching in Tokyo in the years between 1878 and 1883, designed several seismographs. Among these was a duplex pendulum instrument that recorded the two horizontal components of earthquakes. It was, he claimed, “comparatively cheap and simple” and was “employed by many private observers in Japan.”
The Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company in England began manufacturing Ewing’s several seismographs in 1886. The first examples in the United States were installed in the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton and in the University of California at Berkeley. Edward Holden was then director of the former and president of the latter, and Joseph LeConte was professor of geology at Berkeley.
Enthusiastic about the new science of seismology, Holden and LeConte convinced Paul Seiler, head of an electrical apparatus supply firm in San Francisco, to manufacture duplex pendulum seismographs that would sell for $15 apiece (rather than the $75 charged by the English firm). Over a dozen examples are known to have been distributed across the country and around the world, some recording earthquakes as early as 1889. This one came to the Smithsonian in 1964, a gift of Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio.
Ref: Edward S. Holden, Handbook of the Lick Observatory (San Francisco, 1888), pp. 54-56.
Edward S. Holden and Joseph LeConte, “Use of the Ewing Duplex Seismometer” (1887), reprinted in Holden, “Earthquakes on the Pacific Coast,” Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 1087 (1898).
Currently not on view
date made
late 1880s
California Electrical Works
place made
United States: California, San Francisco
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
paper (label on top of the instrument material)
brass (overall material)
overall: 27 1/8 in x 13 1/2 in x 11 3/4 in; 68.8975 cm x 34.29 cm x 29.845 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Case Institute of Technology
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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