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The history of Newton's apple tree

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This article contains a brief introduction to Newton's early life to put into context the subsequent events in this narrative. It is followed by a summary of accounts of Newton's famous story of his discovery of universal gravitation which was occasioned by the fall of an apple in the year 1665/6. Evidence of Newton's friendship with a prosperous Yorkshire family who planted an apple tree arbour in the early years of the eighteenth century to celebrate his discovery is presented. A considerable amount of new and unpublished pictorial and documentary material is included relating to a particular apple tree which grew in the garden of Woolsthorpe Manor (Newton's birthplace) and which blew down in a storm before the year 1816. Evidence is then presented which describes how this tree was chosen to be the focus of Newton's account. Details of the propagation of the apple tree growing in the garden at Woolsthorpe in the early part of the last century are then discussed, and the results of a dendrochronological study of two of these trees is presented. It is then pointed out that there is considerable evidence to show that the apple tree presently growing at Woolsthorpe and known as 'Newton's apple tree' is in fact the same specimen which was identified in the middle of the eighteenth century and which may now be 350 years old. In conclusion early results from a radiocarbon dating study being carried out at the University of Oxford on core samples from the Woolsthorpe tree lend support to the contention that the present tree is one and the same as that identified as Newton's apple tree more than 200 years ago. Very recently genetic fingerprinting techniques have been used in an attempt to identify from which sources the various 'Newton apple trees' planted throughout the world originate. The tentative result of this work suggests that there are two separate varieties of apple tree in existence which have been accepted as 'the tree'. One may conclude that at least some of the current Newton apple trees have no connection with the original tree at Woolsthorpe Manor.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 1998-09-01

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