Professor Ferdinand Hassler of West Point and Union College V. Frederick Rickey West Point (and friend of Union College) 30 September 2008
Ferdinand Hassler (1770-1843) • Born in Aarau • Watch manufacturing family • Studied diplomacy in Bern • Studied with Georg Tralles, a Swiss surveyor • Surveyed the canton
Acquiring a Library • To Paris in 1793 to view a solar eclipse, where he acquired a “fine mathematical and diplomatic library” • Paris 1796: “bought valuable additions to my mathematical instruments and library”
Voyage to America • The French invaded Switzerland in 1798 and took over the survey in 1803 • He decided to found a utopian farming community in South Carolina • Sold his law, literature and politics books • Took only 3000 scientific books • Took a standard metre and kilogram
Hassler in Philadelphia • The community was bankrupt • Attended the American Philosophical Society • Probably met Jefferson • Robert Patterson and John Vaughn were impressed with his knowledge and suggested the Coast Survey • Law founding the Survey passed in 1807
Hassler at West Point • A “starvation salary” of $700 • Made a plan for the studies of WP, 1808 • Tried to teach practical geodetic work to recent graduates but they were entirely unprepared • Began to write his trigonometry • Influenced Joseph Swift and J. J. Albert • Secretary of War Wm. Eustis said the law did not allow the hiring of civilians.
Hassler’s Trigonometry, 1826 • The first US book on analytic trigonometry • Translated by James Renwick of Columbia • Trig functions were ratios (a big deal!) • The word “function” is used, concept unclear • No graphs • Stress on trigonometric identities • Stressed care in laying out computations
West Point Curriculum • Until 1823 the mathematics curriculum at WP was based on Charles Hutton’s Course in Mathematics • It dealt with arithmetic, geometry, and algebra • Calculus was just entering the curriculum
Hassler at Union, 1810-1811 • Professor of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics • Salary of $1250 • He was happy at Union
Union Curriculum in 1828 • Sophomore • Hasler’s Arithmetic • Euler’s Algebra • Legendre’s Plane Geometry • Junior • Legendre’s Solid Geometry • Hasler’s Trigonometry • Biot’s Analytic Geometry • Senior • Boucharlot’s Differential and Integral Calculus
Hassler in Europe • In 1811 he went to London to buy astronomical instruments • He designed them himself and drew plans
Ferdinand Hassler, first superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey, gathered books for the Coast Survey Library beginning in 1811 and inscribed them with the words shown.
Hassler was a connoisseur of scientific instrumentation. He bought instruments from the best makers, often ordering custom features of his own design and instruments of his own invention. This collapsing field telescope was a personal item. Probably obtained by Hassler during his instrument buying trip to London between 1812-1815. The signature on the instrument ---"Bate, London“--- refers to Robert Brettell Bate, a London maker and dealer of mathematical, philosophical, and optical instruments.
This is Hassler’s 26.8 inch wooden slide rule There is a wrap-around logarithmic scale for numbers 1 000 000 to 100 000 000 in 10 parallel lines The logarithmic scale on the bottom slat is for numbers 1 000 000 to 1 000 000 000 These scales would have been useful to a terrestrial or celestial cartographer, which Hassler was
The Coast Survey I • After returning from London in 1815, the Survey began • Congress did not understand how difficult and time consuming the work was and cut off funding in 1818. • So Hassler became a teacher, writer, farmer, etc., in order to survive
Selling Books to Survive! • In 1820, Hassler attempted to sell books to the government. • They were “extremely valuable” but not necessary to complete the WP library • In 1825, he sold 408 books to WP for $1311 • No list of those books has been found
The WP Library • The 1822 catalog contains 941 titles, 78 classified as “Mathematics and Navigation” • One-third are in English, two-thirds in French • They include 39 titles purchased by Thayer • The 1830 catalog lists 366 mathematics books • 44 in Latin, 21 in German • I conjecture all of these came from Hassler
NICHOLAS COPERNICUS OF TORUÑ THE REVOLUTIONS OF THE HEAVENLY SPHERES Diligent reader, in this work, which has just been created and published, you have the motions of the fixed stars and planets, as these motions have been reconstituted on the basis of ancient as well as recent observations, and have moreover been embellished by new and marvelous hypotheses. You also have most convenient tables, from which you will be able to compute those motions with the utmost case for any time whatever. Therefore buy, read, and enjoy [this work]. Let no one untrained in geometry enter here. NUREMBERG, JOHANNES PETREIUS, 1543 A copy sold at Christie’s for $2,210,500 on 17 June 2008
The Art of Conjecturing, is now in English translation, edited by Edith Sylla.
The Coast Survey II • In 1830 he began work on standards for weights and measures • The Coast Survey revived in 1832 and lasted for the remainder of Hassler’s life • His salary was $6000
Ferdinand Hassler directing movement of a 300 pound surveying instrument which he designed and proudly called the Great Theodolite.
The camp of Hassler’s survey party (c. 1814) His theodolite is in a tent His specially designed and reinforced carriage was for carrying survey equipment It featured a wine chamber and a disappearing dining table It came under fire in Washington for its supposed extravagance
He measured a base-line on the shore Then built triangle against triangle Measured angles with his theodolite Used trigonometry to calculate distances An imposition of pure geometry on the winding coast Hassler's triangulation of Long Island Sound
Simon Newcomb 1835-1903
Hassler Whitney 1907-1989
In Memory of Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler(1770-1843) Having filled with honor both in his native and adopted country offices of high trust and responsibility as Superintendent of The United States Coast Survey and Standards of Weights and Measuresboth great national work from their origin entrusted to and conducted by him with distinguished reputation and success. Strict integrity and love of truth with strength and activity of intellect, characterized him as a man whilst his various scientific writing as well as the national works projected by him are alike memorial of his laborious life and of his contribution as a man of scientific instruction and improvement of his fellow men.
When the Reverand Doctor Eliphalet Nott, President of Union College, learned of the death of Hassler, he wrote: We have not such another man to die.