James Henry Coffin

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James Henry Coffin
Born September 6, 1806
Williamsburg, Massachusetts
Died February 6, 1873 (1873-02-07) (aged 66)
Nationality American
Known for Pioneer of wind theory; co-deducer of Buys Ballot's law (with William Ferrel)[1]
Scientific career
Fields Mathematics, meteorology

James Henry Coffin (September 6, 1806 – February 6, 1873) was an American mathematician and meteorologist.[2]



Coffin was born on September 6, 1806, in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. He was descended from Tristram Coffin, the first owner of Nantucket Island. Coffin was an orphan, and was raised by his uncle, the Reverend Moses Hallock.[3] He attended Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, from where he graduated in 1828. He had a son, Seldon J. Coffin. He died in 1873 on February 6.[2]


After graduating from Amherst, Coffin became a teacher at various schools and colleges. His career in meteorology began in 1838. He worked at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, from 1840 to 1843, during which he installed an apparatus for detecting the wind's direction and velocity, atop Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.[2] Together with William Ferrel, he deduced the Buys Ballot's law, which was named after the Dutch meteorologist C. H. D. Buys Ballot.[1] He collaborated on meteorological studies with the Smithsonian Institution beginning in 1846. That same year, he acquired a chair at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, in mathematics and natural philosophy, a position he held until his death.[2]