Grand Orrery #3
This handsome-looking number is a model that displays the relative movement of some of our solar system's more famous planets. Surrounding the outside of the model are busts and figures of Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton and James Bowdoin (second governor of Massachusetts and a fan of science-type stuff too.) Entirely hand-cranked, the gears on the bottom were supposed to make the little planet thingies on the top go 'round and 'round. See?
It took Joseph Pope, a local clockmaker, twelve years to complete this project, working from 1776 to 1787. He included all the planets and natural satellites known to us at the time: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Then, in 1781, scientists discovered Uranus and fifth-graders everywhere entered a new Golden Age of Snickering. The new planet was not included in this orrery, because Pope most likely threw his hands up and said "Oh no, I'm not adding another one. Are you kidding? These six are giving me trouble enough! Sheesh!"
Once complete, the orrery was offered to Harvard for the princely sum of £450 (considerably more than a gold medal and two silver dishes.) The college held a general lottery to raise the funds to buy the orrery, and acquired it in 1789.
It has never really worked properly. Something to do with the gears and its weight. But it sure looks pretty.
Object Name: grand orrery
Inventory Number: 0005
0005a: Previous Number
Repaired by: Simon Willard
Repaired by: 2 items related to this constituent
Supplier: American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Maker: Paul Revere
Maker: Joseph Pope
User: James Bowdoin
User: 2 items related to this constituent
Place of Origin: Boston
Cultural Region: Colonial America, United States
brass, bronze, glass, mahogany, plastic, wood
Description: This gear-driven model of the solar system is made of mahogany and brass and is operated by hand-crank. The planets--Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn--are included with their known satellites. The planets revolve on their axes, the moons revolve around the planets, and each planetary system revolves around the sun at relative speeds. The Earth's system also shows the rotation of the lunar node, represented by a small ivory ball on a stick.
The beehive dome is twelve-sided and has windows held in a mahogany frame. It represents the sphere of fixed stars. It originally rested on the ecliptic ring, but put a lot of stress on that part. It currently is raised up on a modern lucite sleeve.
The ecliptic ring is silvered and marked with calendar scales. One is the zodiacal calendar; the other the civil calendar. The ring is raised above the skirt on twelve turned gilt brass columns. Below the ecliptic ring are twelve silvered plaques mounted on the top of the skirt. These have astronomical information compiled in tabular form.
The skirt of the orrery is also twelve-sided and has windows through which to see the mechanism. Each window is painted with a sign of the zodiac. Twelve gilt, cast-bronze figures are placed at the twelve corners. These are three figures--Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, and James Bowdoin--who repeat four times around the instrument. Newton's bust is shown on a pedestal depicting his system of the world. Franklin stands next to a three-pronged lightning rod. Bowdoin leans against a pillar surmounted by a symbol of the sun.
The grand orrery sits on a low table with a hexagonal frame and six, reeded, Marlborough legs. The brackets have fretwork.
Crank handle is a replacement made by Richard Ketchen in 1988.
Overall view of grand orrery by Joseph Pope in the Putnam Gallery in 2007. The glazed, beehive dome, which represents the cosmic sphere, sits on a plexiglass collar. This supports the dome over the silver calendar ring, which was not strong enough to hold the dome on its rim. Bronze figures and windows painted with signs of the zodiac are below this. The entire orrery sits on a wooden table.
Signed: in center: Joseph Pope fecit Boston State of Massachusetts 1787
Historical Attributions: Began in 1776 and finished in 1787, this orrery is one of only five known instruments made by Joseph Pope, a Boston clockmaker. It took Pope 12 years to make it. Half-way through the project, Uranus was discovered (in 1781). Pope did not include this new planet.
It is thought that Paul Revere cast the bronze figures.
In 1787 a major fire in Boston threatened the orrery at Pope's workshop. The Governor, James Bowdoin, sent six men and a wagon full of blankets to rescue the orrery and bring it back to his house on Beacon Hill. Dr. Waterhouse was among those that rescued it.
In 1788 a group of prominent cititzens tried to purchase the orrery for Harvard or pursuade the college to buy it. Pope asked £450, which was a fortune. Members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts for permission to hold a lottery to raise money to buy the orrery. The General Court consented on November 22. The lottery tickets were sold and winners drawn in March 1789. The lottery raised not only the £450 but an additional £71.14.9, which was also used to purchase scientific instruments for Harvard.
The orrery never worked perfectly, most likely due to the weight of the mechanism and the lack of rigid frames and gears. Simon Willard was called in to repair it in the 1790s. According to the story that Willard delighted in repeating, the orrery would work all right up to a point, and then whole solar system would lurch forward. Many skilful mechanics had been called in to repair the defect, but all failed. Finally the Harvard Corporation offered Willard untold sums if he could make it run smoothly. Willard looked it over carefully, took out his drill, drilled a hole in a certain place, and put in a rivet. The orrery worked perfectly. The whole operation took about an hour. The Harvard authorities were delighted. "Now, Mr. Willard, how much do we owe you?" "Oh," said Willard, "about ninepence will do, I guess."