Hooke's Depth Sounder (replica)


Since England’s defense and prosperity depended heavily on mastery of the seas, it is not surprising that the Royal Society of London, established by royal charter in 1660, promoted projects pertaining to oceanic navigation. Nor is it surprising that Robert Hooke, the polymath who served as Curator of Experiments (1662-1672), understood that to know the depth of the sea may be “of good use, both Naval and Philosophical” and so sought ways to determine depths that would be better than the traditional lead line. This replica represents Hooke’s first depth sounder, presented to the Royal Society on September 30, 1663. When thrown overboard, the instrument would sink to the ocean floor; the wood sphere (6.5" diameter) would then detach from smaller lead sphere, and the time it took to rise to the surface would indicate depth. Since Hooke introduced a new model soon thereafter, we can assume that the original one did not work as well as expected.

Ref: [Robert Hooke], “An Appendix to the Directions for Seamen, bound for Voyages,” Philosophical Transactions 1 (1665-1666): 147-149. This describes the original model but depicts a later one.

[Robert Hooke], “Directions for Observations and Experiments to be made by Masters of Ships, Pilots, and other fit Persons in their Sea-Voyages,” Philosophical Transactions 2 (1667): 433-448. Here again, Hooke describes the original model but depicts a later one.

Thomas Birch, The History of the Royal Society of London for Improving of Natural Knowledge (London, 1756), vol. 1, pp. 307-308.

William Derham, Philosophical Experiments and Observations of Dr. Robert Hooke (London, 1726), pp. 225-230.

Robert P. Multhauf, “The Line-Less Sounder: An Episode in the History of Scientific Instruments,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 15 (1960): 390-398.

Date Made: 1959

Maker: Eichner, Laurits Christian

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: New Jersey

See more items in: Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences


Exhibition Location:

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: PH.316644Catalog Number: 316644Accession Number: 226495

Object Name: Hooke's Depth Sounder (replica)depth sounder (replica)

Measurements: overall: 13 1/4 in x 6 in; 33.655 cm x 15.24 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746b2-6c4d-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_1816069

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.