The Parliament was forced to find the solution to the troublesome longitude problem. William Whiston and Humphrey were mathematicians and friends who made a petition signed by “Captains of Her Majesty’s Ships, Merchant-Men” This piece of parchment demanded that the government pay attention to the longitude problem. A Parliamentary committee assembled to respond to its challenge in June of 1714. The committee sought out advice from Sir Isaac Newton. They established the Longitude Act which welcomes potential solutions from any field of science or art put forth by individuals or groups of nationality and to reward success handsomely. First prize of €20,000 goes to the person who illustrates a method that rightfully determines longitude to an accuracy of half a degree of a great circle. Second prize was €15,000 for a method accurate to within two thirds of a degree. Last but not least, the method that perfectly measures to within one degree receives €10,000. The Board of Longitude consisted of scientists, naval officers and government officials, which were a panel of judges that were established by the Longitude Act. They could give a stimulant amount of awards to help impoverished inventors bring promising ideas to ultimate success. The board was the world’s first official research and development agency. In order to judge the accuracy of any proposal the method had to be tested on one of Her Majesty’s ships as it sailed “over the ocean, from Great Britain to any such Port in the West Indies as those Commissioners Choose… without losing their longitude beyond the limits before mentioned”
The Board of Longitude set a trial for John Harrison’s watch in 1761. The device was put to the test by the means of an 81-day Atlantic crossing. It only lost 5 seconds. The Board delayed awarding Harrison the prize claiming that certain rules had been broken and that the accuracy of the time piece was just luck. They gave Harrison 2,500 pounds. The Board of...
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