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Solar Compass
1840s

When magnetic compasses fail
When Michigan surveyor William Austin Burt found that the needle of his magnetic compass was unreliable in areas with large deposits of iron ore, he envisioned an instrument that would use sun sights to determine true north and the extent to which the needle departed from this direction. In 1835, Burt commissioned William J. Young of Philadelphia to make a working model. Burt patented the model, but it was far from perfect. And so Burt and Young continued to work on the problem, developing new models, like the one shown here. By 1840, they had developed a truly useful instrument. Ten years later, the General Land Office adopted the solar compass as a standard instrument for all major boundary lines in regions of magnetic disturbance. Demand for the instrument rose accordingly.

Notes
William Austin Burt (1792-1858)
William J. Young (1800-1870)
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