John Harrison: Know About His Invention and other Personal Details with Facts

Who is this John Harrison?

Who is this John Harrison

John Harrison was an English inventor who was born on April 3rd in the year 1693 to a rural carpenter’s family in Wakefield, Yorkshire in England who had the routine of fixing and repairing watches from people. He was a carpenter too but was not known much in the locals and was grown with deep admiration to watches. He was moved along with father to Barrow in Lancashire due to bleak in their local business. With his interest in physics and mechanics, John Harrison invented a lattice pendulum which showed a one-second error with no changes to the outside temperature like heat and cold.


Out of perseverance he again started to do another invention and this time it came out as a tool that was very useful for measuring the longitude of an open sea. Thus, John Harrison was given certifications and applauds for his innovation in 1735 at his very age of 42. John Harrison continued with his works and was getting continuous recognition for 5 more versions of clocks and his very famous marine chronometer. John Harrison passed away on March 24th in the year 1766 in London, the United Kingdom at the age of 83. Thanks to the brains of John Harrison as his invention of measuring the sea is still useful to many for a safe and long marine journey!


Personal Biography of John Harrison


John Harrison expressed keen interest in watches and the way the functioned from his young age of 6. As days passed, during his teenage years, John Harrison grew more liking with watches and clocks and he worked day and night to service for clocks of people; he even studied books relating to various types of clocks and watches and went beyond their family’s cultural hereditary works of carpentry and woodworks.


John Harrison expired in London at the age of 83. He was buried in a cemetery at Hampstead alongside with his 2nd wife Elizabeth and his son Williams. In 1879, the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers refurbished the grave of John Harrison even though he was actually not a part of the guild long before.


The Self-taught watchmaking human – John Harrison


Self-taught watchmaking human - John Harrison


The knowledge and excellence of John Harrison’s learning with clocks and time are astonishing! With a good piece of knowledge of clocks and hereditary influence of carpentry, John Harrison made his first clock on a long wooden piece of block. It is amazing to know that he made this tower clock at the age of 20. This invention was done by John Harrison with the help of his younger brother James. The feature here is that the clock didn’t even require lubrication like other regular ones of those times.


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Again in the year 1725, Johan Harrison invented a clock pendulum compensation system for the effect of temperature changes in the swing duration. This was his first pendulum made solely with his own knowledge and learning. It was said to be a lattice pendulum which varied in just one second. 2 years later, again working with his brother, John invented two more instances of watches, of which the distinguishing feature was the high-level accuracy in their movements; the time meters gave by the clock brothers are very much interesting as the new designs they embedded in it was taken inspirations and applied by other new watchmakers. John Harrison later had moved onto various innovations from watches to the most famous versions of a marine chronometer which are still under preservations even today.



John Harrison in relation to his Chronometer


It was a time when the maritime industry had been flourishing and even the British Empire’s Global colony was laying their foundations. There were growing concerns about marine travel and there was a demand for the accuracy in measurements of longitude of the open sea through the development of nautical technologies. The people were having a hard time calculating the measurements of the sea with the help of relative positions of the stars and moon, as the weather was in an unpredictable state with sudden winds and rains.


The Greenwich Observatory’s director, Edmond Galley, had recommended John Harrison for meeting the Kingdom’s chief watchmaker, George Graham, after his inventions of the clock tower with his brother’s help. After proper testing and experimentations, it was finally accepted and recognized that Harrison’s system was much more conveniently better than that of his own. Growing out of motivation, John Harrison in 1730 made his first model of a chronometer which was being highly tested in critical marine conditions.


As times passed, John Harrison had achieved a higher degree in excellence for the manufacturing of nautical chronometers. He was even appreciated with the Copley Medal and was given a prize valued £ 20,000. Even the British Admiralty had been appointing back in 1714 for the invention of watches that had permitted for determining the exactness in the position of some ship at an open sea with an accuracy of about 1 °.


There were some more versions of this chronometer which was made by John Harrison lately. Restored marine chronometers like H1, H2, H3, and H4 are still preserved and seen in the Greenwich Observatory. It is stated that H1, H2, and H3 versions are still running, H4 chronometer is on conservation, as unlike the other 3 ones, this requires lubrication for its rotations to turn.



marine chronometers H1

 H1 Model


John Harrison - h2 model clock

H2 model


John Harrison - h3 model clock

H3 model


John Harrison - h4 model clock

H4 model



John Harrison’s idea of determining Longitude of the open sea


John Harrison comes to London in 1730. For so many years (in 1714) even before the entry of the self-taught watch mechanic in the prime city of Great Britain, the Parliament heard a new report from Newton. This had to do something with John Harrison. The thing was, the distant time had actually been a big issue in determining the accurate coordinates of the exact location of ships in the sea. Before the advent of our contemporary GPS methods, the navigation system was more than several centuries ahead, and the processes for determining the axes of the locations at those stages of era, atlases and several route instruments, were far away from perfection. In coordination to that present state of affairs, the courts had already suffered many disasters and sudden catastrophes.



The speech of Newton stated that the exactness is not related to any sort of negative external cues like humidity, or gravity, or some temperature fluctuations, and even the motions of the sea and hence there is no such invention that had currently existed. The endpoint was that a marine chronograph is needed to determine the longitude of an open sea; the more accurate a clock is, the more appropriate one can locate the position of the vessel into the marine environment. In the process of producing an accurate sea “movers”, some pretty decent prize was also appointed. 20,000 pounds is treated as a bonus and this could be obtained by an individual who made accurate nautical clocks which is perfectly suitable for use even in harsh aquatic conditions. This incentive was quite huge and thus it strongly demanded a marine chronometer. This was the ultimate start of the 35kg heavy work of H1 by John Harrison which led to success after his whole life spent over H4 of the most useful nautical instrument- the marine chronometer!


The evolution of John Harrison’s Chronometer Versions



John Harrison was working in Barrow upon Humber as a marine timekeeper, which is currently called H1 Chronometer. Again his helping hand was his younger brother James; later tests of H1 on the river of Humber, John Harrison had proudly brought it into London in the year 1735. This version was asked for installation at Graham’s workshop, to be presented to the London’s scientific community. Finally, it was seemingly done that John Harrison’s invention might be useful for determining the longitude of the open sea. The clocks are notable for their two interconnected swinging balances which remain unaffected by the movements of a ship and thus this was essentially a portable version of Harrison’s previous work of the precision wooden clock tower; henceforth, a trail was requested to test the measurements of longitude of the open sea.


In a live setting, H1 and John Harrison set their marine travel in ‘HM ship Centurion’ which was about to travel to Lisbon, for experimenting with his first attempt H1 chronometer. The voyage to Lisbon started poorly for both John Harrison and his clock invention. By that time when they reached Lisbon however, the manmade machine was going much more smoothly and reliably. For the return journey, it was under transfer to the Orford and hence the travel had much better valid results. As they all were nearing England, John Harrison had announced that there was a headland the officers had thought about which was a beginning and John Harrison was actually correct. This meant that they were 60 miles off course and was in a danger. It also had denoted that the H1 was working perfectly! He was ultimately invited for a meeting by the Admiralty of the Commissioners of Longitude.


There were about 8 members assembled on 30th June in the year 1737 for a discussion about John Harrison’s ‘curious device.’ £250 out of £500 was agreed for an up-front payment for the next higher version of the machine and thus John had promised to execute and finish it within 2 years of time duration. This was the beginning of his chronometer H2 but ultimately John Harrison did not go for a trail as he later found a big flaw over it! This opened the gates for H3 version in 1740, where he worked for it for about 19 years of his life. The invention was started to run within 5 years, but great improvement and modifications were stated as years passed and it was concluded that the device couldn’t’ give accuracy in the timing!


From the years of 1751–52, John Harrison had commissioned ‘John Jefferys’ to produce a watch with some radically new kind of balance; it functioned well so he incorporated this with his own fourth longitude timekeeper-H4. Nobody could predict this small pocket watch for its extreme precision and accuracy in the 1750’s. However, while it appeared like a large pocket clock, H4 was quite a unique one! The secret is heard from its rapid clock ticking; H4 ticks 5 times per a second, since it had a large balance that beats more quickly and also with some larger oscillations than a regular typical watch. In 1761, the Commissioners permitted John’s son, William, for preparing to a voyage to Jamaica for the watch’s trial; the experiment went on well. During the journey, William used H4 to predict a landfall earlier at Madeira than the crew was actually expecting one! This impressed the ship’s captain so much that he was ready to buy the H4 chronometer version in the future. Unfortunately, the Commissioners were not satisfied with the H4 version and thus the bond between them and John Harrison’s started to deteriorate.


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Lunar distances and Jupiter’s satellites came as rivalry tests alongside with John Harrison’s 20 years project in the 1760’s. Barbados was the destination place of test used to experiment the longitude of the sea with H4 on one side and the 2 astronomical devices on the other who had ‘Nevil Maskelyne’ as the astronomer in-charge. Ultimately, the H4 of John Harrison’s touched success by following the rule of the 1714 Act and was found that it had just 39.2 seconds and 9.8 miles which are 15.8 km in its latitude! Harrison was rewarded with £10,000 for describing his amazing clock invention and early cash was given and remaining was stated only when other timekeepers could replicate his sketch. But John Harrison felt like he was already due on his payment (according to the 1714 Act) and thought that the Commissioners had modified the norms; thus it became a new volume as the “Longitude Act of 10 May 1765.” Later there were so many disputes set from the Royal Observatory. John Harrison reaped huge gains but still, he felt that he was not properly rewarded for his precious idea of the chronometer. Even with the King’s encouragement, the Parliament ordered to award him for that excellent work with the time and thus John Harrison became a history for his innovation in measuring the longitude of the sea!


Good facts to know about John Harrison


  • On April 3rd of 2018, Google signified the works of John Harrison by remembering him on his 325th birthday!


  • In the year 2000, John Harrison’s life history is dedicated as a movie in the name “Longitude” which had the cast, Jeremy Irons, Michael Gambon, Ian Hart, Anna Chancellor, Gemma stones, Samuel West, Brian Cox and some more famous stars!


  • The author Dava Sobel inspired by the life of John Harrison wrote a book called “Longitude: True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time” in the year 1995 which was a Popular Science genre!


  • John Harrison also had a keen interest in music and it is said that he was even the Choir conductor for a Parish church!


  • At the age of 6, John Harrison suffered an illness, and his parents gave him a watch to see and play with in bed during this time; it was the beginning for a legend to grow and he had just enjoyed his ills times listening to the ticks of the watch!


  • There was a watch dedicated in memory of the watchmaker John Harrison in 2008 which was exhibited at the Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University. The device used a trigger mechanics of a ‘grasshopper’, which was produced in the model of a giant grasshopper and was also called as the “chronophage”!


  • The last successful work of John Harrison’s H4 chronometer did not hang over a Cardona suspension, which was likely to have seemed in his other 3 versions!


  • Last year in 2018, there was a prototype introduced from the ideas of John Harrison’s chronometer, which ran for 100 days and was found to have delayed just 5-eighths of a second off, denoting the presence of the most accurate clock ever which was completely mechanical-free pendulum!

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