David Rittenhouse

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Visit our museum page entitled RITTENHOUSE for more information on both David and Benjamin Rittenhouse.

"David Rittenhouse, was born at Paper Mill Run, Roxborough township, near Germantown, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania on April 8, 1732.  He died in Philadelphia June 26, 1796.  He was a brother to Benjamin Rittenhouse, also a noted instrument maker.

His first public service was a boundary survey for William Penn in 1763-64 to settle a dispute with Lord Baltimore.  He laid out on the ground, the twelve mile radius around Newcastle, Delaware which forms the boundary between Pennsylvania and Delaware.  So accurate was the work that it was accepted by Mason and Dixon.  In 1770 he removed to Philadelphia.  He was employed as a surveyor between 1779 and 1786 on boundary surveys and commissions involving Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts--over half the British colonies in America.  He was the first one in America to put spider web in the focus of his telescope.  He was professor of astronomy in the University of Pennsylvania and served on its board of trustees.  He made and repaired instruments for (George) Washington.  (Benjamin) Franklin consulted him on various occasions.  For (Thomas) Jefferson he standardized the foot by pendulum measurements in a project to establish a decimal system of weights and measures.  He was appointed the first director of the Mint by Washington on April 14, 1792 and served until June 1795.  He was painted by Peale and Trumbull, a marble bust was made by Ceracchi and a bronze medal by Barber, engraver of the Mint.

At Franklin's death he was elected president of the American Philosophical Society on January 7, 1791 and by re-election until his death.

Among the surveyor's compasses that bear his name, the best known are the two that he made for George Washington."


Reference:  Smart, Charles E.  The Makers Of Surveying Instruments In America Since 1700  Troy, New York:  Regal Art Press.  1962



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