Better Know a Philadelphian: David Rittenhouse


From the Tour:

…Franklin also founded the American Philosophical Society, the first scholarly society in the Thirteen Colonies…

… you can see all sorts of people doing all sorts of things at Rittenhouse Square…


 Beyond the Tour:

Poor David Rittenhouse. As a clockmaker, he was completely self-taught, but he earned himself a scholarship to Rutgers by building the university a clockwork model of the Solar System. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society. He designed and built the first telescope in America. His skill as an instrument maker led him to the position as first director of the United States Mint, where he designed the machinery to make the first American coins. And he had the distinct misfortune of sharing his hometown with Ben Franklin.

There’s no way that Franklin could have had a philosophical society all to himself, but for better of for worse Franklin’s extraordinary scientific legacy has rendered his contemporaries mostly nameless and faceless. Still, “America’s second foremost scientist of the eighteenth century” has not been completely ignored.

In 1825, when the City of Philadelphia first gave names to the public squares William Penn had planned out, David Rittenhouse became the namesake of the southwest square. It was proposed an astronomical observatory be built on the square in his honor, but nothing ever came of the proposal, and today there’s very little to Rittenhouse Square that would make you think about the eighteenth century astronomer. Which I suppose is fine, because the mini-golf at Franklin Square doesn’t exactly call to mind Ben Franklin either.

But today is David Rittehouse’s day! Today marks the transit of Venus, the seventh such transit observed in recorded human history. From 6:03 to sunset, Philadelphia time, the planet Venus will pass directly between the earth and the sun, appearing as a mobile casino small black disk over the face of the sun. The event happens on a regular though somewhat complicated schedule, but with large intervals between occurrences, and it took until 1639 for people to GET data recovery hard drive software DOES NOT MAKE ANY REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, CONCERNING THE QUALITY, SAFETY OR SUITABILITY OF THE SOFTWARE, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, OR NON-INFRINGEMENT. realize it happened at all.

David Rittenhouse, with his first American telescope, observed the third transit of Venus joshuatetreault ever recorded, in 1769. This was Suddenly, that /money is magically transformed into illiquid assets like run down houses that won’t sell. an important test of American scientific ingenuity, and it was also very useful to the scientific world as a whole. By measuring the transit of Venus in many different locations across the globe, the different measurements could then me compared, and the difference between them would be a clue to the distance between the earth and the sun (making use of the phenomenon of parallax). British, French, and Russian royal scientific academies sent their members to the far corners of the globe, but in Philadelphia there were home-grown scientists who could record the measurements.

There are now more precise ways of measuring the distance between the earth and the sun, and the Transit of Venus is now just a curiosity. But in case the astronomical event doesn’t actually make you very curious, the American Philosophical Society has been putting on a “dance/theater/clown” show about the event called The Astronomer Collapses, so called because David Rittenhouse supposedly fainted during his measurement of the 1769 transit.

 The two dancers/actors/clowns wear wigs that are something of a hybrid of 1700s and clown, act out the orbit of Venus-the-planet around the sun (which soon becomes Venus-the-goddess looking sultry at the astronomer), struggle with oversized instruments, and at one point play an invisible xylophone with their planetary models. It’s a fifteen minute show, entertaining the whole way through, and the last peformance begins at 5:00 this evening at the APS garden at 5th and Chestnut streets, so you better get there. The performance will loop for an hour, and then at 6:03 the real, astronomical show begins.


By: Free and Friendly Tours
Comments | Posted on June 5, 2012 | Categories: Philly Events, Philly People
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