B. Rittenhouse Wye Level

B. Rittenhouse Wye Level

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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.
Object Name
level (wye)
Rittenhouse, Benjamin
place made
United States: Pennsylvania
telescope: 26 in; 66.04 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Ellis Ellicott, III
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
America on the Move
Surveying and Geodesy
America On The Move
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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