History Behind the Invention of The Compass

The magnetic compass is one of the greatest new invention ideas in history that has been commonly used by seagoing ships, airplane pilots and long distance travelers to navigate their way from one destination to the next. It is such a brilliant little device that most people take it for granted. For generations, it has just always been a useful tool. But as with all such tools that have found their way into the everyday lives of millions, the compass has its own interesting history of how it was invented. What we recognize as a compass today got its start in ancient China.

Compass usage illustration
Compass usage illustration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 4th century BC, Chinese fortune-tellers and feng shui practitioners used magnetized lodestone for the purpose of bringing good luck. At some point, people noticed that the lodestones had an uncanny ability to point in a north-south direction. This is due to the high level of iron oxide found in the lodestone mineral. Helping people to figure out which direction they are going in was a much more practical use and soon the first version of the compass was created. It was a spoon-shaped lodestone that was set on a square shaped slab that included the four main magnetic direction points of north, south, east and west, plus, the constellations. Several centuries later, Chinese scholars discovered that if they rubbed magnetite onto needles and suspended them in water by using a silk thread, this created a more efficient and portable compass.

It is speculated that Chinese sailors used this invention to reach the shores of India. By the 12th century, Zhu Yu’s “Pingchow Table Talk” included reports of sailors using an early compass. Zheng He was the first person officially recorded using a compass as a navigational tool. He made seven sea voyages during the years between 1405 and 1433.

Meanwhile, Europeans are reportedly to have first used a compass as early as 1190, which was based on the original lodestone model. The compass was also found in use in the Middle East around 1220. The English were using a mounted needle on a pin design in the 13th century. As sea travel became more sophisticated and common, the compass evolved into ever more easier to use models. In the 17th century, an Englishman named Gowan Knight created the Knight Compass. He discovered that a solid steel needle would last longer than earlier versions.

The basic use of the compass as a navigational device has not changed as it is still relied upon by those who travel by land, air and sea. As modern GPS technology has largely replaced sole reliance on the compass, it is still used as a back up. This is because the earth will always have those magnetic points that move the needle in tune with powerful invisible forces.

Author Bio: Joel is the Marketing lead at Idea design studio. Idea Design Studio is a product development firm that specializes in top-of-the-line design work for inventors. If you have any question on how to get invention help just contact Idea Design Studio.

A simple dry magnetic pocket compass
A simple dry magnetic pocket compass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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