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Rittenhouse Compass on Display at Germantown Historical Society

July 21, 2011

The Germantown Historical Society has been getting some attention lately for their display of a colonial era compass, created by David Rittenhouse over 200 years ago, and we encourage you to visit! The compass has been housed at the museum since 1910 and recently received a spring cleaning thanks to Jeffrey Lock- a specialist in antique restoration.

David Rittenhouse was a renowned astronomer, inventor, mathematician, surveyor and public official, born in RittenhouseTown on April 8, 1732. He is known widely for being the first to record the transit of Venus in 1769 and to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The compass is purported to be the first using a vernier scale measurement, which is more accurate because it compensates for variations in magnetic north.

The compass fits in seamlessly with Germantown Historical Society’s exhibit: At Home in Germantown 1750-1900. The exhibition highlights the Society’s vast collection of period furnishings and decorative arts, including furniture, silver, pottery, porcelain, tableware, kitchenware, needlework, and children’s games & toys. It provides a vivid picture of what it was like to live in Germantown years ago and how people worked, relaxed and entertained in the home. Period settings re-create the rooms in Germantown homes of the 18th and 19th centuries, including a Colonial keeping room and parlor, a Federal dining room, and a Victorian reception room. Other displays illustrate the various activities conducted in the home and show how domestic practices and patterns of living changed over time, for example, the compass sits on a circa 1740 secretary desk and bookcase along with a quill pen and parchment.

To learn more about the compass, check a recent NewsWorks article or stop by Germantown Historical Society– located at 5501 Germantown Ave and open Tuesday 9AM-1PM, Thursday & Sunday 1PM-5PM, and Second Saturdays from 1PM-4PM.

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