Longitude prize

Longitude prize

The Longitude Prize was a reward offered by the British government through an Act of Parliament in 1714 for a simple and practical method for the precise determination of a ship's longitude. The prize was administered by the Board of Longitude.

The problem of longitude

The measurement of longitude was a problem that came into sharp focus as people began making transoceanic voyages. Determining latitude was relatively easy in that it could be found from the altitude of the sun at noon with the aid of a table giving the sun's declination for the day. [Latitude can also be determined from Polaris, the northern pole star. However, since Polaris is not precisely at the pole, it can only estimate the latitude unless the precise time is known or many measurements are made over time. While many measurements can be made on land, this makes it impractical for determining latitude at sea.] For longitude, early ocean navigators had to rely on dead reckoning. This was inaccurate on long voyages out of sight of land and these voyages sometimes ended in tragedy. Finding an adequate solution to determining longitude was of paramount importance.

For details on many of the efforts towards determining the longitude, see History of longitude.

Prizes offered

The main longitude prizes were:
*₤10,000 for a method that could determine longitude within 60 nautical miles (111 km)
*₤15,000 for a method that could determine longitude within 40 nautical miles (74 km)
*₤20,000 for a method that could determine longitude within 30 nautical miles (56 km).

In addition, the Board had the discretion to make awards to persons who were making significant contributions to the effort or to provide ongoing financial support to those who were working productively towards the solution. The Board could also make advances of up to ₤2,000 for experimental work deemed promising.Taylor, E.G.R., "The Haven-finding Art: A History of Navigation from Odysseus to Captain Cook", Hollis & Carter, London 1971, ISBN 0 370 01347 6]

As a result of the disputes and changes in the rules (legislated or otherwise) for the prize, no one was deemed qualified for any of the official prizes. None of the major prizes was ever awarded.

ignificant recipients

Many persons benefited from the awards offered by the Board. In total, over ₤100,000 was given in the form of encouragements and awards. Significant among these are:Sobel, Dava, "Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time", Walker and Company, New York, 1995 ISBN 0-8027-1312-2] [Varzeliotis, A.N. Thomas, "Time Under Sail", Alcyone Books, 1998, ISBN 0-921081-10-3]

Harrison also received ₤8,750 from Parliament in thanks for his work, bringing his total lifetime award to ₤23,065.

The Prize in book and film

Dava Sobel's 1996 bestseller "Longitude" (ISBN 0-14-025879-5) recounts Harrison's story. A film adaptation of "Longitude" was released by Granada Productions and A&E in 2000, starring Michael Gambon as Harrison and Jeremy Irons as Rupert Gould.

See also

* History of longitude
* Nevil Maskelyne
* Lunar distance
* Inducement prize contest
* John Harrison
* Larcum Kendall
* James Cook
* Celatone


External links

* [http://www.nmm.ac.uk/server/show/conWebDoc.355 Royal Observatory Greenwich: "John Harrison and the Longitude Problem" ]
* [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/longitude/ Nova Online: "Lost at Sea, the Search for Longitude" ]

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