Lewis and Clark Expedition Pocket Compass

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related event
Lewis and Clark Expedition
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
user
Clark, William
maker
Whitney, Thomas
Physical Description
wood, mahogany (overall material)
brass (overall material)
silver plate (overall material)
Measurements
closed: 3 1/2 in x 3 1/2 in x 1 1/2 in; 8.89 cm x 8.89 cm x 3.81 cm
See more items in
Political History: Political History, General History Collection
Science & Mathematics
Measuring & Mapping
Military
Government, Politics, and Reform
Transportation
Exhibition
The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Description
In the spring of 1803, Meriwether Lewis began to purchase scientific and mathematical instruments for a pending expedition into the northwestern region of North America. Among the items he purchased from Philadelphia instrument maker Thomas Whitney were three pocket compasses for $2.50 each, and this silver-plated pocket compass for $5. It has a mahogany box, a silver-plated brass rim that is graduated to degrees and numbered in quadrants from north and south, a paper dial, two small brass sight vanes, and a leather carrying case. Whether Lewis purchased the silver compass for himself or intended it as a special gesture for William Clark is not known.
Following the instructions of President Thomas Jefferson, the Corps of Discovery, under the leadership of Lewis and Clark, ascended the Missouri River in May 1804 to obtain detailed information on the natural resources of the region, to search for a northwest passage, and to make official diplomatic contact with Indian leaders.
By the time they returned to St. Louis in September 1806, few of the instruments that were purchased for the trip had survived the journey. The pocket compass, however, was kept by Clark as a memento. He later gave the compass to his friend, Capt. Robert A. McCabe, whose heirs donated it in 1933 to the Smithsonian Institution.
Place Made
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Date made
ca 1804
Object Name
compass, pocket
ID Number
PL*038366
catalog number
38366
accession number
122864
Related Publication
Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History