Invented thousands of years ago, the compass opened the world to exploration and discovery. Today the compass still is a basic tool, a magnetized needle rotating on a vertical pin, pointing at the Earth's magnetic North, but this instrument of exploration changed the world.
This small wooden compass is a replica of that used by Lewis & Clark, two American explorers, in their journey across the uncharted territories of North- Western America on the famous 1804-06 expedition. The original compass and case used by Clark is beautifully reproduced here in walnut-wood and brass.
By the time Lewis was making his readings, the compass already had an ancient lineage. It was not so much an invented technology, but more a natural phenomenon discovered and applied. In China, around 200 B.C., it was observed that lodestones could be used as a directional aid. Not until the fourth century A.D. were magnetized needles used in place of lodestones, and another 600 years would pass before a compass was used to navigate a ship. When the compass finally reached Europe, probably by the Silk Road during the 12th century, it freed ships from their reliance on the stars (not always visible) and captains' inclinations to restrict their journeys by staying within sight of coastlines. The modern age of exploration was born, and when Lewis bought the compass in Philadelphia in 1803, he was not only equipping himself with an instrument no explorer would leave home without, but with a simple, elegant tool that drew such fearless souls as Magellan, Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci to the farthest corners of the earth.