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John Harrison: A Celebration of Genius

March 23, 2012

LONDON, March 23, 2012 /PRNewswire/ –

24th March is the birthday of one of Britain’s finest scientists, 18th century
self-made carpenter turned clockmaker John Harrison, whose epic 40-year struggle with the
establishment to solve the “impossible” longitude problem is one of the greatest success
stories ever told.

Harrison’s remarkable story remains an inspiration today, not least to his descendant
Lucy Parker, managing director of WimbledonWatches.com, online retailer of vintage watches
[http://www.wimbledonwatches.co.uk ]. “John Harrison was a determined man. Against all
odds, he rose from humble Yorkshire origins to become a successful scientist and
engineer,” she said. “Even when nobody believed him, he never gave up. His inventions
saved the lives of countless sailors.”

Born in 1693 to a working-class Yorkshire family, Harrison followed his father into
carpentry, but soon began building clocks in his spare time, despite having little formal
education. He was 37 years old when he embarked, in 1730, on the challenge that would make
his name and fortune, but would take a lifetime to complete.

The Longitude Problem

In the 18th century, ships were unable to determine how far west or east they had
sailed from their home port. This led to frequent shipwrecks and loss of life. Determined
to find a solution, in 1714, the British Government offered a GBP20,000 prize (worth about
GBP2 million today) to the person who could invent an accurate way of finding longitude at

The scientific community thought the task impossible. Eminent scientists including Sir
Isaac Newton tried to solve it, but none managed it. They thought the answer lay in the
“clockwork” of the heavens – astronomy. But Harrison believed there was a mechanical
answer, if he could build a near-perfect timekeeper. By comparing the precise time on the
boat with that in the ship’s home port, he knew it was possible to calculate the distance

Between 1730 and 1759, he produced a series of revolutionary timekeepers, H1, H2 and
H3. These were large “sea clocks” with mechanisms that compensated for the motion of the
sea. They were accurate, but not accurate enough. With characteristic determination,
Harrison radically altered his design and produced H4, a portable device similar to a
large pocket watch. It was a revelation. In 1764, after six weeks at sea, it was out by
just five seconds – an unprecedented accuracy three times better than that required to win
the Longitude Prize.

The problem was, nobody believed it. Astronomers on the Board of Longitude, which
administered the prize, refused to accept that a mechanical timekeeper could be so
accurate. But Harrison fought on, enlisting the help of King George III himself. In the
final decade of his life, Harrison finally received the financial reward and recognition
he had struggled for, but the main Longitude Prize was stubbornly never awarded. Harrison
died a wealthy and respected man on his 83rd birthday, 1776.

Note to Editors

Lucy Parker can trace her family line back to the Harrison family via her grandmother
Elsie Harrison and found herself drawn to the watch industry, setting up Wimbledon

Wimbledon Watches is a vintage and preowned watch specialist which sells Swiss brands
such as Rolex, Longines, Omega, Breitling and other watches from bygone eras from the
1920s through to the more modern day. Wimbledon Watches are passionate about watches and
the craftsmanship involved in creating intricate watch movements that track time.

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SOURCE Wimbledon Watches

Source: PR Newswire