George Graham (clockmaker)

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George Graham

George Graham, FRS (7 July 1673, maybe 1675[1] – 16 November 1751) was an English clockmaker, inventor, and geophysicist, and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

He was born in Kirklinton, Cumberland.[2] A Friend (Quaker) like his mentor Thomas Tompion, Graham left Cumberland in 1688 for London to work with Tompion. He later married Tompion's niece, Elizabeth Tompion.


Plaque in Fleet Street, London, commemorating Thomas Tompion and George Graham

Graham was partner to the influential English clockmaker Thomas Tompion during the last few years of Tompion's life. Graham is credited with inventing several design improvements to the pendulum clock, inventing the mercury pendulum and also the orrery. He was made Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1722.[3]

Between 1730 and 1738, Graham had as an apprentice Thomas Mudge, who went on to be an eminent watchmaker in his own right, and invented the lever escapement, an important development for pocket watches.[4]

He was widely acquainted with practical astronomy, invented many valuable astronomical instruments, and improved others. Graham made for Edmond Halley the great mural quadrant at Greenwich Observatory, and also the fine transit instrument and the zenith sector used by James Bradley in his discoveries. He supplied the French Academy with the apparatus used for the measurement of a degree of the meridian, and constructed the most complete planetarium known at that time, in which the motions of the celestial bodies were demonstrated with great accuracy. This was made in cabinet form, at the desire of Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery.

Graham was introduced to John Harrison on the latter's arrival in London, and became a longtime advisor and supporter of Harrison's work on a marine chronometer. Graham and Harrison spent many hours discussing clockwork when first introduced, and Graham gave Harrison an unsecured and interest-free loan to continue his work at this first meeting. Graham later presented Harrison to the Board of Longitude, speaking on his behalf and securing additional funding from the Board.[5]

Deadbeat escapement[edit]

The deadbeat escapement is often erroneously credited to George Graham who introduced it around 1715 in his precision regulator clocks.[6][7][8][9] However it was actually invented around 1675 by astronomer Richard Towneley, and first used by Graham's mentor Thomas Tompion in a clock built for Sir Jonas Moore, and in the two precision regulators he made for the new Greenwich Observatory in 1676,[10] mentioned in correspondence between Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed and Towneley[11][12]


His major contribution to geophysics was the discovery of the diurnal variation of the terrestrial magnetic field in 1722/23.[13][14] He was also one of the first to notice long-term secular change in the direction of the compass needle.[15] The compass needles he produced as an instrument-maker were used by many contemporary magneticians. Around 1730, George loaned approximately £200 to John Harrison so that he could start work on his marine timekeeper known later as H1. George was commonly known in the trade as 'Honest George Graham'.

Examples of his work[edit]


He died at his home in Fleet Street, London[16] and was buried in the same tomb as his friend and mentor Thomas Tompion in Westminster Abbey.[17]

In popular culture[edit]

Actor Peter Vaughan was cast as George Graham in the TV series, Longitude in 2000.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tony Buick (26 October 2013). Orrery: A Story of Mechanical Solar Systems, Clocks, and English Nobility. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 53. ISBN 978-1-4614-7043-4.
  2. ^ "DServe Archive Persons Show". Archived from the original on 13 January 2013. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
  3. ^ Watch-Wiki: George Graham
  4. ^ Harold Bagust, "The Greater Genius?", 2006, Ian Allan Publishing, ISBN 0-7110-3175-4 (page 15)
  5. ^ Horrins, Joahn (1835). "Appendix 6" . Memoirs of a Trait in the Character of George III. of these United Kingdoms. London – via Wikisource.
  6. ^ Milham 1945, p.185
  7. ^ Glasgow 1885, p.297
  8. ^ Beckett, Edmund; Cunynghame, Henry Hardinge (1911). "Clock" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 06 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 536–553, see page 541, last few lines. Dead escapements...To get rid of this defect the dead escapement......was invented by G. Graham.
  9. ^ "Deadbeat escapement". Encyclopedia of Clocks and Watches. Old and Sold Antiques Marketplace. Archived from the original on 20 May 2008. Retrieved 8 June 2008.
  10. ^ Betts, Jonathan Regulators in Bud, Robert; Warner, Debra Jean (1998). Instruments of Science: An Historical Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-8153-1561-2. p.121
  11. ^ Flamsteed, John; Forbes, Eric; Murdin, Lesley (1995). The Correspondence of John Flamsteed, First Astronomer Royal, Vol.1. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-7503-0147-3. Letter 229 Flamsteed to Towneley (22 September 1675), p.374, and Annotation 11 p.375
  12. ^ Andrewes, W.J.H. Clocks and Watches: The leap to precision in Macey, Samuel (1994). Encyclopedia of Time. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-8153-0615-3. p.126, this cites a letter of 11 December, but he may have meant the 22 September letter mentioned above.
  13. ^ Graham, George (1724): An Account of Observations Made of the Variation of the Horizontal Needle at London, in the Latter Part of the Year 1722, and Beginning of 1723. Phil. Trans. 33, 96–107, doi:10.1098/rstl.1724.0020
  14. ^ Graham, George (1724): Observations of the Dipping Needle, Made at London, in the Beginning of the Year 1723. Phil. Trans. 33, 332–339, doi:10.1098/rstl.1724.0062
  15. ^ Graham, George (1748): Some Observations, Made during the Last Three Years, of the Quantity of the Variation of the Magnetic Horizontal Needle to the Westward. Phil. Trans. 45, 279–280, doi:10.1098/rstl.1748.0030
  16. ^ 'The Abbey Scientists' Hall, A.R. p31: London; Roger & Robert Nicholson; 1966
  17. ^ Britten, Frederick J. (1894). Former Clock and Watchmakers and their Work. London: E. & F.N. Spon. p. 89. p.89-97
  18. ^ "Longitude © (1999)". Retrieved 22 June 2021.