March 20, 2023

“The Secret Fortune of John Harrison, the Brilliant Inventor and Clockmaker”

The Secret Fortune of John Harrison, the Brilliant Inventor and Clockmaker


John Harrison, the famous English clockmaker and inventor, was known for his exceptional inventions that revolutionized horology. He was born in Foulby, a small village in the UK, in 1693. Harrison’s life was dedicated to inventing a clock that could keep accurate time at sea, which was a challenge at that time. After a lot of hard work and perseverance, he designed the marine chronometer, which was one of his greatest inventions. However, only a few people knew that Harrison’s work created a fortune for him, which was not entirely evident during his lifetime.

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Section 1: Harrison’s early life and interests

Harrison was the eldest of five children, born to a carpenter, Henry Harrison. He spent his childhood in the countryside, where he developed an interest in clocks. It is said that he disassembled the town clock and put it back together correctly when he was just six years old. Later, he learned clockmaking from his father and began building his own clocks. Harrison became interested in the problem of finding longitude at sea during his youth.

Section 2: Harrison’s Marine Chronometer

Harrison’s Marine Chronometer changed the world of horology drastically. Before the chronometer, sailors used navigational tools that measured the position of the stars to determine their location. However, these measurements were not accurate and could be affected by factors such as bad weather. Harrison’s chronometer changed all of that, providing a more precise way for sailors to navigate the open seas with accurate timekeeping.

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Section 3: Harrison’s inventions in horology

Apart from his Marine Chronometer invention, Harrison’s other horology inventions were also noteworthy. He invented an astronomical clock, the “H1” timepiece in 1735 that contained a compensation system for error due to temperature, making this clock type able to keep accurate time in both hot and cold conditions. Harrison also invented the “H2” clock in 1740’s which was smaller than H1 clock and as accurate as that.

Section 4: Harrison’s fortune and adventures

Harrison’s Marine Chronometer invention earned him a substantial sum of money, but he was not paid for his patent– the Board of Longitude only gave a sum of £10,000 in phases over the years, which was unable to make Harrison wealthy. Harrison’s only daughter died in 1768, following which he and his second son gave themselves to travel and adventure. They went to Jamaica in 1772 and later to Portsmouth, N.H.

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Section 5: Harrison’s family and legacy

Harrison married Mary Barrow, a widow, in 1726. The couple had two children- William and Elizabeth. Harrison’s works were continued by his son William after his death in 1776. William inherited his father’s legacy as a horologist and worked on refinements to the Marine Chronometer.

Section 6: Harrison’s impact on horology and exploration

Harrison’s inventions in horology significantly impacted navigation, exploration and horology. By enabling sailors to determine their bearings accurately, it opened sea communication and contributed to the monumental expansion of the British Empire. Harrison’s work allowed for accurate navigation, making sea travel safer and more efficient and leading to the discovery of new trade routes.

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Section 7: Frequently Asked Questions

1. What was John Harrison’s greatest invention?
Ans: John Harrison’s greatest invention was the Marine chronometer, which enabled sailors to establish their position accurately by calculating longitude.

2. What was John Harrison’s net worth?
Ans: John Harrison’s net worth is difficult to estimate. However, his Marine chronometer invention earned him a substantial amount of money in its lifetime, and he lived a comfortable life.

3. What inspired John Harrison to invent the marine chronometer?
Ans: John Harrison was concerned with finding a solution to the problem of accurately determining longitude at sea, which inspired him to invent the marine chronometer.

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4. Was John Harrison acknowledged for his work during his lifetime?
Ans: Sadly, John Harrison was not acknowledged for his work during his lifetime. It took over 200 years for his name to be rightfully recognised and for him to be heralded as one of England’s great inventors.

5. Did John Harrison receive formal education in horology?
Ans: No, John Harrison was self-taught and learned clockmaking from his father, a local carpenter.

6. How did Harrison’s inventions impact navigation?
Ans: Harrison’s inventions improved the accuracy of measuring time on board ships, thereby enabling more precise navigation and safe sea travel.

7. How did John Harrison spend his fortune?
Ans: Harrison and his second son spent their wealth on travel and adventure after the death of his daughter.

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John Harrison was a remarkable inventor and clockmaker who made a significant impact on the world of horology. He worked tirelessly throughout his life to create groundbreaking technologies that revolutionized sea navigation, making travel safer and more efficient. Despite his numerous contributions, Harrison’s legacy remained obscured until many years later, with him never receiving full recognition until long after his death. Nonetheless, he remains one of the most influential figures in British horology history, and his contributions to the field will forever be celebrated.

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