John Harrison the fist chronometer maker
Some years ago, I traveled to England for the first time. The most impressive memory was the visit to the museum of the Royal Observatory of Greenwich. Oh, you don't know about there? Well, if you go there, you can learn about English Mariners, their history, and "time". The "time" which we spend everyday is based on the Royal Observatory of Greenwich. For example, if you are living in Switzerland, your time is +1. It means that the time in Switzerland is an hour earlier than Greenwich. Now, Let me talk about my experience at Greenwich. I saw a beautiful watch called "H-4" in the museum, and met a mysterious man. He introduced himself as Arthur, and told me a interesting story. I would like to write it down to remember the story.
I was interested in clocks and watches since I was very young. So when I read about the Royal Observatory I really wanted to visit there. When I finally entered to the museum, I was so excited. There, I found "H-4" the most beautiful watch in the museum. I guess I had been standing in front of the watch for a long time so that I didn't notice the man who approached me.
"Are you interested in this watch?"
The young man has blond hair and manly eyebrows with green eyes. He didn't look like museum staff, but appeared to be well-informed about the watch I was looking at. So I replied,
"It is rare to see a person who look at the watch so long. I know this place isn't so enjoyable although it's being historical."
His English with British accent was easy to listen to and I noticed that he has something like special feeling about this watch named "H-4". I said,
"I think this watch is so beautiful. I wander what is the person who made it like."
"If you are interested in its maker, I can tell some about him."
I replied at once.
"I'd love to hear that."
He raised his eyebrows and then smiled. Somehow, his smile was very friendly though he seemed to be, like serious when he talked to me.
"Okay, but let's go somewhere else. We can't just stand here and talk so long."
He took me to the staff room, but still he wasn't staff. He just said hello to some workers repairing clocks and they just replied like they didn't saw him for a while. I think he is common visitor who are known well by museum staffs or some related person, but not working at there. Anyway, he led me to the corner of an workers' room, and took two chairs to sit down.
"Hey Arthur, are you picking up?"
"Don't you say that. Mr. Kirkland doesn't do things like you do."
"Oh you don't know how he is in pub!"
Some workers started to chat about us, but Arthur replied,
"Guys, I'm just going to explain her about something she's interested in. So please lend me the corner to talk with her. Ron I say again it's not picking up."
"Well I understood~."
The first man called Ron said to me,
"Sorry, you can stay here as long as you like. You don't have to care about us, we are always like this."
"Eh... thank you."
The workers looked to know about Arthur a lot, and they were so friendly.
"So... shall we start?"
Arthur handed me a cup of tea and started to talk.
In the Middle Ages, Western European countries competed each other in the ocean with trading. For instance, Queen Isabella of the Kingdom of Aragon, Le, and Castile encouraged Columbus to discover new land, also England increased their navy's power to gain the control of the sea. Many ships tried to discover new lands to get resource. Now, imagine yourself being a sailor at that time. When you sail to the sea, there is no signal or sign to tell you the direction. Then, how would you know where you are?
The man had grown up in a village called Barrow, in Lincolnshire, England. His father was a carpenter, which means that he was a commoner. His name was John Harrison. He was said to be a sober, diligent boy. When he was 6 years old, he got a terrible illness so that he had to take a complete rest for a while. His father felt pity for his son, so he gave John a clock, which was much more expensive than you think at that time. While he was in bed, John spent time watching and listening to its beat. Though he soon got well, still it was so interesting to study the watch's moving part for the curious boy. Singing as a member of Barrow church choir, and learning the skills of the carpenter, he continued to be into clocks.
After he had grown up, John followed his father and became a carpenter. However, in his free time he learned physics and mechanical engineering by himself. He made his first clock when he was 20 years old, using wood for most of its parts. It was 1713. In a short while, his clock became the talk of the village for its accuracy. Many people wanted to see the carpenter's pendulum clock. Also, some clock owners visited him and asked him to repair theirs. As I mentioned you, clocks at that time were expensive goods and to repairing wasn't so cheep, too. John realized that he could manage his family by working on clocks.
Now, let me get the subject back to the Middle Ages' sailors. Heading for new lands far away, the sailors needed to know the direction and the point where they were. To find the point on the map, they first had to know the latitude and longitude.
Do you know about them? Well, maybe I should explain. If there is a not good teacher, he would say, "The horizontal line on a map is latitude and the vertical one is longitude." If you understood them like this way, you will not understand what the problem is. Now, imagine a tomato. You will cut it and make round slices. Okay, then if you cut it, you see each slices' sizes are different. Aren't they? Slices from the side should be small and slices from the middle part should be bigger. Each slice you made is the latitude. The biggest slice is the equator on the earth. I hope you understood about latitude by this explanation. Then, let's talk about longitude. This time, please imagine an orange. Oh, a peeled one. Done? Good. You see the cracks between the sections of it. The cracks are the longitude. They start from the North pole and meet again at the South pole. Does it make sense? Each line of latitude has different length, but all longitude lines have the same length.
Now, you understood latitude and longitude. Latitude is decided by the moving of the Sun, and longitude is decided by the spinning of the Earth. This way of thinking had existed since before the common era, and in the 17th century, there were already maps with latitude and longitude lines on them. Therefore, to know where they were, sailors needed to find out those lines. Actually, to find latitude out was kind of easy, because if you are standing on the equator, the Sun, moon, and stars would go just above the top of your head. Therefore, skilled sailors are said to be able to gather the latitude by seeing the height of the Sun, moon, or stars.
However, how can you find the longitude? Common world maps now have 24 lines of longitude. It means that if you go from one to the western next one, your clock should go back one hour. Now, here is a problem. The length of "one hour" is different in each level of latitude. Okay, the story became complicated. Imagine a peeled orange again. Take one piece from it. Don't eat yet! Look at the backside of the piece. The shape looks like a rugby ball. It is the length of "one hour". If you go up (near the north pole) or down (near the south pole), the length between the latitude lines would be shorter, and if you look at the middle (around the equator), the length would be long. It's just like the tomato's slices' sizes are different depending on the part where they came from. For example, the length of "one hour" on the equator is 1600km, but it must become shorter when you go North (or South). Therefore, you can not know how far you have sailed if you can't find the longitude.
Since sailors knew that if they went from one latitude line to the next one, their clock would change one hour, they also knew that; if they knew the time of their start point (harbor) and the time of where they were, they would be able to find the latitude. Then, you might say that they should bring a clock showing their port's time and just check it and compare their time on the ocean which they can learn by watching the Sun. However, most of the clocks at that time were pendulum clock. Can you notice the problem? A pendulum swings. A ship on the ocean is rocked by the wave. It doesn't work! Also, the parts of the clocks are metal, which changes its length by the temperature! For these reasons, it was impossible to know the time even though they brought clocks on their ships.
Just because they couldn't find out where they were, many sailors lost their lives. They hit against islands that must not be their destination, they spent much longer time than they actually need to reach the land. At that time, to go to India from Britain took about 2 years. Sailors left their lives to luck and traveled for the country and their families. At last, having a lot of tragic accidents, British Government offered a prize for the solution provides longitude. It was in 1714. The solution must be able to indicate longitude within 2 minutes (0.5/360) from the exact one. In order to judge them, the Administration Board of Longitude was established. The condition which they offered was very strict, but also their prize was attractive enough to make people try. Oh, you are interested in the prize? I know. It was 20.000 pounds. Now, if you calculate it in Swiss Francs today, it would be... well, more than 52 billion. Yes, if you were an ambitious inventor, it's certainly worth a try. Isn't it? As you can imagine, the board received more than a few ideas that included eccentric ones and interesting ones. In fact, in the 17th century, England had the same level of advance on the skills as Switzerland, where is still famous country for clock making. The reason why those countries got good skills is actually related to the Reformation of Christianity. Before that, two of the most skilled countries on clock making were France and Germany. However, clockmakers who chose to be Protestant were driven out of their countries. Some of them were said to have decided to refuge from the persecution. What was more, France and Germany became the front of the Thirty Years War in early 17th century. A lot of skilled workers took refuge to England or Switzerland. Nonetheless, they couldn't find the conclusive system to find the longitude even though 15 years had past from the establishment.
John, the carpenter's son, was one of the inventors who were interested in the honor of "finding the longitude". While we were talking about latitude and longitude, he had invented some remarkable systems with his brother, James. I guess, the greatest one was Grasshopper escapement. It was a kind of cogwheel looks like a grasshopper. By inventing it, John avoided the friction which causes damage to the cogwheels. Also, he solved the temperature problem by mixing up some kinds of metal to prevent each others' thermal expansion. The temperature problem was very serious for clock makers at that time, since when metal gears change their shape or size, clock don't work at all. That was why the sailors couldn't bring metal clocks on their ships that were mainly heading to warm-weather islands.
John made an accurate pendulum clock by using skills and systems that he had invented, but it was still a pendulum clock. It cannot be used on a ship. Therefore, he decided to make a clock that is independent of the direction of gravity. He used spring to make the action of seesaw inside of the clock, instead of using pendulums. In 1730, he made it. It was nice, but too big to put in a ship. The height was 1.2m, and the weight was said to be more than 30kg. He had to work on making clocks smaller. As you can imagine, studying physics and doing a lot of experiment to invent new systems cost very much. Therefore, John decided to present his ideas to Edmond Halley, who was the astronomer royal at that time and well known by Halley's comet. Halley thought highly of John, and then introduced him to George Graham. Graham was English foremost scientist and also clock maker. It was very nice of Halley for John. Graham was surprised at the grasshopper gear and encouraged him a lot. He even personally supported John by loaning money for the "sea clock".
Supported by those scientists, John made "H-1". Obviously, it's "Harrison-1". He presented it to the Board of Longitude and "H-1" became the fist resolution they actually tests. It was accurate enough to impress the Administration members, so they gave John 500 pounds to make the next one. With their financial assistance, John began to make "H-2". It was in 1737. However, 4 years later, John realized that the form of "H-2" had a problem. Also, the Board couldn't carry the test out, since England had been fighting against Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession. The accurate clock that England had been studying must not be taken by their enemies. John requested more money to develop "H-3", and invented bimetal, which avoid the effect of changes in temperature. He tried to make it smaller than "H-2", to make it easy to bring. It took 17 years to make the clock. But still, although he used some new systems that he invented, "H-3" seemed to have problem in its design itself.
"H-1", "H-2" and "H-3" are all kinds of big clock, and they used springs to make the movement. However, John thought that pocket watch could be a serious timekeeper. Oh, I have to explain you that in 1750s, pocket watches exited but the accuracy was thought to be not as good as pendulum clocks. Knowing this, John had faith that pocket watches have potential to the resolution of finding the longitude.
Assembling "H-4" was not easy, since John had to build it up with highly complex gears that he hardly saw by the naked eyes. In this watch, he invented Maintaining power. It allowed "H-4" to keep its movement while it's being wound. When he finished making it, he had become 68 years old. John called "H-4" as "sea watch". It looked like large pocket watch with 13cm diameter and weight of 1.45 kg. I think "H-4" is almost art at the same time it was the fruits of highly developed technology. It has silver container and its white face is decorated by detailed illustration. The inside of the watch is said to be more beautiful than the outside. The pallets are made from diamond, and it has beautiful carving.
The test was carried out. John's son William sailed to the Indie islands to proof its accuracy, boarding His Majesty's Ship Deptford. It recorded a remarkable result, three times more accurate than the condition offered by the Longitude Board!
Yes, it was fully accurate enough to receive the prize. However, the astronomers of Greenwich who were the members of the Longitude Board, disguised with the fact that a watch, not astronomy found out the longitude and the watch maker is a commoner. They grudge the prize and ordered him to submit the building plan to make another one, saying that the result of the test must be a coincidence. "H-4" became a hostage of Longitude Board and Harrison took 3 years to make "H-5". Then he claimed about the prize to the King George III, presenting him "H-5". The honest King got extremely indignant at the astronomers and the Board that didn't evaluate John Harrison properly. He said, "Those people have been cruelly wronged. By God, Harrison, I will see you righted!" He was really angry at that time at the unfair measuring of the Board. He himself tested "H-5" by daily observation at the palace for ten weeks. The King found the watch accurate enough and then dressed the Board members down to award Harrison full prize. Finally, John Harrison received it in 1773. He was 80 years old. 38 years had past from when he made "H-1".
After he received full prize, he lived three years and passed away in 24th, May ,1776. It was his 83th birthday. Also, It isn't well known that a watch made as a replica of "H-5" helped the success of the adventure of Captain James Cook.
When he finished talking, Arthur looked like he just woke up from a long dream. I felt it was a long dream, too. He stood up and took the tea cups to the sink, so I couldn't see his face well, but it was a bit strange for me that I felt like that Arthur is missing John Harrison.
After this, I talked a lot with the clock workers and Arthur. I went to the museum for many times in my trip and they taught me a lot about clocks. We became good friends. Later, I was invited to the dinner by Arthur and the workers and learned about the truth of the mystery I felt about Arthur, but it will be another story.
Was it too long? I agree it's a long story, but for some reasons I didn't feel it's long when I was listening to Arthur. It was a precious time I had in my travel. I think I will remember him for a long time.
Special Thanks to Shiro-Yagi and Basch, who helped me a lot when I was writing this story.