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Hipp Chronoscope

Hipp Chronoscope

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A chronoscope is a sophisticated clock that measures minute intervals of time. The “M. Hipp / Neuchatel, Suisse / N. 10107” inscription on the dial of this example refers to Matthäus Hipp, a German clockmaker who moved to Switzerland during the political turmoil of 1848, and retired in 1889. The serial number indicates a date in the late 1870s. The double electromagnet at the top is a feature that Hipp introduced in 1875. The “C. & G.S. N0. 1” inscription on the base refers to the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey, the federal agency that transferred this instrument to the Smithsonian in 1921. We have not yet determined who used this instrument or for what purposes.
Julius Hilgard, a German immigrant employed by the U.S. Coast Survey, took another Hipp chronoscope to a meeting of the Philosophical Society of Washington in April 1871, and explained its use in determining personal equation (or the extent to which any observer tends to see a phenomenon slightly ahead or behind the mark). The Coast Survey was justifiably proud of the accuracy of its charts, and so had been concerned with this problem for some time. Charles Sanders Peirce used that chronoscope for his experiments relating to personal equation, the results of which validated the normal (or Gaussian) law of errors, and the applicability of the method of least squares for observational work.
Ref: Thomas Schraven, “The Hipp Chronoscope,”
C. S. Peirce, “On the Theory of Errors of Observation,” Annual Report of the Director of the United States Coast Survey for 1870 (Washington, D.C. 1873), Appendix 21, pp. 200-224, on 210-211.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
around 1870
overall: 52 cm x 26.7 cm x 21.5 cm; 20 15/32 in x 10 1/2 in x 8 15/32 in
overall: 20 1/2 in x 10 3/4 in x 8 3/8 in; 52.07 cm x 27.305 cm x 21.2725 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey
Science & Scientific Instruments
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Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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