One of the masterpieces housed in Drexel University’s art collection the David Rittenhouse Astronomical Musical Clock is the subject of a new book by clock conservator and Drexel graduate Ronald R. Hoppes ‘60, The Most Important Clock in America: The David Rittenhouse Astronomical Musical Clock at Drexel University. The clock is believed to have been made in 1773.
The clock features a miniaturized operating model of the then-known solar system (orrery), shows where the Sun and Moon appear at any given time when viewed from the Earth, gives the time and date, tracks the Moon’s orbit around the Earth, and plays 10 tunes. Because of its orrery and technical dials the clock is considered the most important in America.
The new book chronicles the recent conservation by Eric Chandlee Wilson, Bruce Ross Forman and Hoppes, who studied engineering during his undergraduate years at Drexel.
David Rittenhouse (1732-1796) was a Philadelphia astronomer, mathematician and clockmaker. In 1768, he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, an organization that sponsored his observation of the transit of Venus in 1769, an important occasion that allowed astronomers to calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun, an event that wouldn’t occur again for another 105 years.
The clock was purchased in 1774 by Thomas Prior, a prominent member of the American Philosophical Society. Upon his death, the clock belonged to Benjamin Smith Barton, a nephew of Rittenhouse. In 1815 the clock was acquired by James Swain, the publicist of the Philadelphia newspaper, the Public Ledger. In 1879, Anthony J. Drexel’s (founder of Drexel University) closest friend, George W. Childs, assumed the position as publicist at the Ledger and purchased the David Rittenhouse clock. His widow donated the clock to Drexel in 1894.
The Rittenhouse Clock is exhibited on Drexel’s campus in the Anthony J. Drexel Picture Gallery. A book signing and reception will be held in celebration of the clock on October 7, at 5:30 p.m. in the Gallery. The Anthony J. Drexel Picture Gallery is located on the third floor of Drexel’s Main Building, 32nd and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia, Pa.
News Media Contact: Niki Gianakaris, director, Drexel News Bureau
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