Week 47  -  11.18.12 - 11.24.12  -  No.9428X

Materials:   Copper, Sterling Silver, Iolite, Stainless SteelSteel Screws and Washers

Pendant Dimensions:   1.94” H x .640” W x .364” D

W. A. Burt, a United States Deputy Surveyor, began surveying government lands in Michigan in 1833. While working in Wisconsin, where there were large deposits of iron ore, Burt experienced great difficulty in using his standard Vernier Scale Compass. This motivated him to find a solution that was not dependent on magnetism and would not be influenced by earth's ore materials. With his mechanical abilities, he then devised and built the solar compass. Burt made a model of his instrument in 1835 to test its validity and the instrument was submitted to a committee at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. They examined its principles and merits and ultimately awarded Burt twenty dollars in gold and the John Legacy Medal. He improved on his surveying instrument and in 1840 re-submitted it to the Franklin Institute. The instrument was further improved over the years and, in 1851, he exhibited that version at the Great Exhibition in London, where he was awarded another prize medal. He then received another medal by jurors of Astronomical Instruments.

In 1850, when Burt's original solar compass patent (No.9428X of 1836) was about to expire, he went to Washington to apply for a renewal. The land commissioner committee, who were senators from Michigan and other states, recognizing the value of Burt's solar compass in public land surveys, persuaded him to forego renewal and petition congress for suitable advance compensation. Burt did as was suggested to him on the faith he would get paid for his patent of such a valuable instrument. However, the compensation indicated did not materialize in Burt's lifetime or at any time thereafter. Since there was no patent on Burt's solar compass after 1850, instrument makers sold ‘Burt's Solar Compass’ to surveyors.

From the middle of the 19th century until late in the 20th century, the solar compass was widely employed for surveying land. Its original impetus was for use where magnetic compasses were susceptible to iron bearing minerals that made for inaccurate readings. It was then found to be superior to the magnetic compass even when local attraction was not a problem. Its close relative, a solar compass attachment to a surveyor's transit, was still a recommended method of obtaining direction in the 1973 manual of the US Bureau of Land Management.