Lewis and Clark Expedition Pocket Compass


In the spring of 1803, Meriwether Lewis began to purchase scientific and mathematical instruments for a pending expedition into the northwestern region of North America. Among the items he purchased from Philadelphia instrument maker Thomas Whitney were three pocket compasses for $2.50 each, and this silver-plated pocket compass for $5. It has a mahogany box, a silver-plated brass rim that is graduated to degrees and numbered in quadrants from north and south, a paper dial, two small brass sight vanes, and a leather carrying case. Whether Lewis purchased the silver compass for himself or intended it as a special gesture for William Clark is not known.

Following the instructions of President Thomas Jefferson, the Corps of Discovery, under the leadership of Lewis and Clark, ascended the Missouri River in May 1804 to obtain detailed information on the natural resources of the region, to search for a northwest passage, and to make official diplomatic contact with Indian leaders.

By the time they returned to St. Louis in September 1806, few of the instruments that were purchased for the trip had survived the journey. The pocket compass, however, was kept by Clark as a memento. He later gave the compass to his friend, Capt. Robert A. McCabe, whose heirs donated it in 1933 to the Smithsonian Institution.

Date Made: ca 1804

User: Clark, WilliamMaker: Whitney, Thomas

Place Made: United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Related Event: Lewis and Clark Expedition


See more items in: Political History: Political History, General History Collection, Government, Politics, and Reform, Military, Science & Mathematics, Transportation, Measuring & Mapping

Exhibition: American Presidency

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Related Publication: Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History

Credit Line: Mary McCabe

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: PL.038366Catalog Number: 38366Accession Number: 122864

Object Name: compass, pocket

Physical Description: wood, mahogany (overall material)brass (overall material)silver plate (overall material)Measurements: closed: 3 1/2 in x 3 1/2 in x 1 1/2 in; 8.89 cm x 8.89 cm x 3.81 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746a3-020f-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_500256

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.