Frictionless ship's log, probably made by T. Walker & Son Ltd

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probably made in London

Postcard of Frictionless ship's log, probably made by T. Walker & Son Ltd.
© National Museums Scotland

Frictionless ship's log, probably made by T. Walker & Son Ltd

This 'frictionless' ship's log was the first effective model to be commercially produced, and was originally patented by Edward Massey in 1802. This example is a development known as the 'A1 Harpoon Log' patented in 1861, and was made around 1880, probably by T. Walker & Son Ltd., a scientific instrument maker based in London, but with a factory in Birmingham.

The mechanical log has a five blade propeller, each blade marked with an anchor and 'T.W'. The white enamelled dial plate has three dials and is marked: 'T. WALKER'S/PATENT/HARPOON/SHIP LOG/-A.1.-/London'. As the brass outer case rotates, it moves the hands around the dials, thus ascertaining the speed of a ship as it passes through water.

Thomas Walker (1805-1871) was Edward Massey's nephew. Although he set up in business in Birmingham separately, he became interested in his uncle's invention. He improved it, began making them for Edward Massey's successors, and finally the business was acquired by Thomas Walker & Son.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-180-000-984-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0504: National Museums Scotland Part 2
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1970.12
Date: After 1863
Around 1880
Material: Brass case / white enamelled dial plate. Inscription: [anchor] / T.W; T.WALKER'S / PATENT / HARPOON / SHIP LOG / -A.1.- / London; 14234
Dimensions: 0.54 mm
What: Mechanical log / case
Subject: 9. NAVIGATION (Departmental Classification)
19. MATHEMATICS (Departmental Classification)
Who: T. Walker, London (Maker)
Where: England, London
Description: Mechanical ship's log in a brass case made after 1863 and signed by T. Walker of London
  • For Edward Massey, see Alan Treherne. The Massey Family: Clock, Watch, Chronometer and Nautical Instrument Makers. Newcastle-under-Lyme, 1977. 
  • For Walker and his business, including the A1 log, see J.E. Willmott. A Short History of the Firm of Thomas Walker Limited Birmingham, Nautical Instrument Makers. Birmingham, 1951. 
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