The magnetic properties of magnetite, the lodestone used in compasses, have been known for thousands of years, but it was not until the 12th century that Chinese navigators began using the mineral in compasses to help sailors find magnetic north. Early compasses consisted of a magnetized bar or needle floating in a dish of water. More advanced instruments placed the needle on a pivot so it hovered above a card bearing a compass rose, whose points correlated to the Temple of the Winds devised by the ancient Greeks.

Compasses were popularized in the 15th century by Portuguese sailors, whose instruments sometimes featured magnetized cards that pivoted rather than needles. Other compasses were designed to be read from below, say by a sailor laying in his bunk. By the 16th century, the world’s greatest European compass makers were based in Nuremberg and Bruges.

As navigation aids, compasses are certainly better than nothing, but they are not without their shortcomings. The first problem is that magnetic north and true north are not the same, which means compasses had to be designed to compensate for the resulting magnetic declination. The needles in compasses were also affected by the steel in ships, which was offset in the early 1800s by Commander Matthew Flinders, who devised his Flinders bars.

And then there is the sea itself, which practically guarantees that a compasses will never be read at rest and perfectly horizontal. To solve this problem, gimbals were devised to keep the compass constantly suspended; the compass was typically placed within a binnacle which housed the gimbal and supported other instruments. By the 20th century, this technology was improved upon and adapted to automobiles, which were outfitted with compasses to help drivers find their way on unmarked roads.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Alloy Artifacts

Alloy Artifacts

A tool collectors’ dream, this site is a deep repository of photos and info on 20th century hand tools and the co… [read review or visit site]

Drainspotting

Drainspotting

Josh and Cam Larios have created this site enabling people to upload and 'tag' photos of historic or artistic manho… [read review or visit site]

A Millers Falls Home Page

A Millers Falls Home Page

Randy Roeder has carved out a niche for himself with his fine website devoted to the history of the Millers Falls C… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Stunning Antique Pocket Silver Pocket Barometer Compass Armorial Crest Maxwell Randall Made Model 5-6 Camp & Trail Antique Gold Micarta W/compass *no Reserve Vintage Rare Casio Atc-1100 Triple Sensor Qw.1170 1994 Pre- Protek Compass G/conAntique Silver Plate Masonic Compass Dividers 6" Working Order Ceremonial NrOriginal Nos Mint Gm Accessories Compass Gauge Package Kit Vintage Chevy BuickVintage Ww2 -mod Military German Ammo Case Pin Compass Knife Junk Drawer LotVintage Starrett No. 85 Divider / CompassVintage Wwii Ww2 W & L. E. Gurley Troy Ny Usa Lensatic Black CompassVintage Taylor Seto Fix Blade Survival Hunting Knife W/ Leather Sheath & Compass(e) Fine Vintage C.plath Hamburg Germany Ship's Binnacle Compass Salesman SampleAntique 1920s Terrestrial World Globe 14.00" In Papermache Wooden Stand CompassUs Brass Pocket Compass Military VintageWwii~waltham~united States Government Issued Vintage Wrist Compass Survival GearVintage A. Leitz Co. Brunton's Pocket Transit Geological Compass Very Rare*vintage L.s.starrett Co. 5" Tapered Leg Compass Dividers - EstateVtg Ford Rotunda Compass C4rz-19a548-a 1964 65 66 Mustang Thunderbird GalaxieWw1 Ww2? A. G. Hahn Cassel Compass German Instrument Military 1920s AntiqueVintage Starrett Compass 6" Pat. Sept. 24 , 1889Vintage 1940's Hull Beaconlite Illuminated Auto Compass - 0ld StockEsl Vintage Bakelite Pocket Compass. Made In England.Vtg 1950s Accessory Auto Truck Dash Airguide Visi-dome Compass Hot Rod CustomAntique Boxed Compass Robert Merrill New York No LiquidWaltham Vtg. U.s. Military Pocket Compass W/ Box T*Kelvin & Wilfred O White Co. Constellation Spherical Marine Binnacle Compass N/rVintage Wwi-wwii U.s. "s&w Ny" Schwab & Wuischpard Brass Pocket CompassAntique Disston Keyhole Compass Hand Saw, 1917-1942 Medallion, 17 1/4" LengthVintage 14k Gold Masonic Past Master Compass And Sun Medal Pin Badge Nr!Vintage Estate 1960's Air Way Airway Car Truck Boat Black Compass With Bracket!!Vintage Estate U.s. Compass Compass Walking Stick Hardwood Folding Walking Cane Functional Brass Vinatge Zx6Arctic Cat Vintage CompassWaltham Vtg. U.s. Military Pocket Compass W/ Brass Case T*Antique Flying Military R.a.f. Pilot Navigators Compass With Wrist StrapVintage Wwi-wwii U.s. "s&w Ny" Schwab & Wuischpard Brass Pocket CompassVintage Brass Sun Watch Ansonia Sundial, Pocket Compass, ClockC.1920s Vintage Taylor U.s.a. Leedawl Brass CompassVintage Patt Binnacle Compass Looks Vgc __ Matching Numbers--2 Excellent GlassesAntique Vintage Gold Filled Masonic Square Compass Bi-fold Fob Slide ChainVintage Texas Wildcat Ii 12" Dagger Commando Knife Compass Industries Box JapanVintage Es Richie And Sons Nautical Ship Compass Pembrook MassVintage Wrist Compass Hinged Lid Military? 1 3/4" Diameter Olive Drab BandVintage 1950s Airguide Visi-dome Compass In Box 84 A Gray Antique Victorian Bunker Hill Monument, Boston, Mass Mauchline Ware CompassVintage Wwii Era Brass Us Army CompassVintage Trough Compass For Surveyor Plane Table Or Theodolite Marked UsVintage Ww11 Aviation Compass -no232 Aprox 3 Kg Bottomly Baird --points North GcVintage Stanley London Natural Sine Brass CompassVintage Wood Grain Auto Compass Nos Autos Trucks Boats PlanesVintage Pocket Fountain Pen With Inset Compass Gold NibUnique Vintage CompassVintage The L.s. Starrett Co. No. 85 Dividers Compass Machinist Drafting ToolVintage Elephant Figural Compass Miniature Charm Camping Hiking Antique RetroVintage Hull Mfg Co Floating Compass United Airlines Cargo Map Direction GuideVintage Sestral No 39377/b Hand Bearing Brass Compass - Original! Rare! *nr*Vintage Midmod Ships Compass Clock Jefferson Electric #580-221 "500" Usa ChromeVintage L L Bean Bakelite Compass Vintage Boxed Kueffel & Esser Set Of 3 CompassVintage Art Deco C 1930 Chrome Plated Compass LotVtg Aqua Meter Marine Boat Navigational Compass Vtg Antique Brass World Travel Pocket Compass W/ Lid Navigation Estate Find