John Harrison and the Longitude Problem

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The draft of this article is incomplete.

The inscription on John Harrison's tomb[1] is a remarkable testament of his accomplishments:

In Memory of MR JOHN HARRISON, Late of Red-Lion Square, London, INVENTOR of the TIME-KEEPER for afcertaining the LONGITUDE at SEA.

He was Born at Foulby, in the County of York, and was the Son of a Builder at that Place, who brought him up to the fame Profeffion.

Before he attained the Age of 21, He without any Inftruction, employed himfelf in cleaning & repairing Clocks & Watches & made a few of the former, chiefly of Wood. At the Age of 25 He employed his Whole Time in Chronometrical Improvements. He was the Inventor of the Gridiron Pendulum and the Method of preventing the Effect of Heat and Cold upon Time keepers by Two Bars of different Metals fixed together; He Intoduced the Secondary Spring to keep them going while winding up; and was the Inventor of most, (or all), of the Improvements in Clocks & Watches during his Time.

In the Year 1735, his first Time keeper was fent to Lisbon, and in 1764, his then much Improved fourth Time keeper having been fent to Barbadoes, the Commissioners of Longitude certified that it had determined the Longitude within one Third of Half a Degree of a great Circle, having erred not more than 40 Seconds in Time.

After near fixty Years clofe Application to the above Pursuits, he departed this Life on the 24th Day of March 1776, Aged 83.

MRS ELIZABETH HARRISON, Wife of the above MR JOHN HARRISON, departed this Life March 5th 1777, Aged 72.

[Inscribed around the top of the tomb:] Reconstructed at the expense of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers of the City of London, 1879, William Parker Master.


  1. ^ Transcribed from an "author's photograph" of Harrison's tomb in Sobel and Andrewes, 1998, p. 207.


  • Jonathan Betts, "John Harrison and the Longitude problem", National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London [UK] (accessed 8 June 2006).
  • J J O'Connor and E F Robertson, "English attack on the Longitude Problem", The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews Scotland (accessed 8 June 2006).
  • Dava Sobel and William J. H. Andrewes. 1998. The Illustrated Longitude. New York : Walker and Company.
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