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Origins of the marine barometer

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In 1668 Robert Hooke recognised the utility of a barometer which could foretell storms at sea, but neither he nor his contemporaries in Britain or elsewhere in Europe succeeded in constructing such an instrument which would work reliably on a moving ship. Theorists and instrument makers, including Hooke, Amontons, De Luc, Passement, Magellan and Blondeau proposed novel forms of tube, but at the time it was not possible to work glass to the suggested shape. The competition between France and England was won by Edward Nairne, who devised the constricted-tube barometer for Captain Cook's second voyage of 1772-75. Nairne barometers were soon taken on other British exploring voyages, but French ships were slow to follow the pattern, possibly in consequence of naval disruption following the Revolution. The earliest Nairne examples were adapted from the domestic barometer, with the tube mounted on a flat back, but within the lifetime of Nairne & Blunt marine barometers adopted the form common for most of the nineteenth century, with the tube enclosed within a square or round-section wooden frame.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Imperial College Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine London SW7 2AZ UK, Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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