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Beeckman, Isaac

1. Dates
Born: Middleburg, 10 Dec. 1588
Died: Dordrecht, 19 May 1637
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 49
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan, Merchant
Beeckman's grandfather was a well-established merchant in Brabant forced to flee (to London) because of religion. Beeckman's father was forced by the intolerance for foreigners to emigrate from London to Middleburg. There the father was a candlemaker and one who installed and maintained water conduits. He married the daughter of a wagon maker. Artisan/Merchant seems to me best to sum up the father.
There is plenty of evidence that the father prospered in Middleburg.
3. Nationality
Birth: Middleburg, Zeeland, Netherlands
Career: Netherlands
Death: Dordrecht, Netherlands
4. Education
Schooling: Leiden, Saumur; Caen, M.D.
Studied at Leiden , 1607-1610, philosophy and linguistics. Though apparently he never received a B.A. he did do the equivalent of a B.A.
Privately studied at Saumur, 1612.
He originally intended to enter the ministry.
M.D. from Caen in 1618.
He was self-educated in medicine. However, he did study medicine seriously for two years ands he was examined at Caen under an established format.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Reformed Church (i.e., Calvinist)
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Physics, Mechanics, Natural Philosophy
Subordinate: Astronomy, Engineering, Meteorology
He was an early proponent of the application of
mathematics in physics.
In Dordrecht the city constructed a tower at the school for his meteorological and astronomical observations. He long kept meteorological records. He developed instruments for this purpose, including a thermoscope.
He made astronomical observations with Lansberg.
In his last years he dedicated himself more and more to grinding lenses for telescopes.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Schoolmaster
Secondary: Artisan
Apprenticed to his father's factory which made candles and water conduits, later pursued the same trade as an independent artisan in Zierikzee, Zeeland.
1619-20, conrector in Utrecht, Rotterdam.
1620, assistant (rector) to his brother in Rotterdam, sharing the salary with his brother.
1623-7, conrector in Rotterdam.
1627, rector of the Latin School at Dordrecht.
This appointment was due to the influence of Rivet, who also arranged the later visit by Gassendi and the correspondence with Mersenne.
8. Patronage
Types: Merchant, City Magistrate, Academic
As a result of his advice, a leading merchant in Rotterdam pulled out of an undertaking with a new mill based on a perpetual motion principle. The merchant (Puyck) saved his shirt--and as a result commissioned Beeckman to build a fountain in his garden.
He had considerable support for his scientific work from the magistrates of Dordrecht with whom he was very close. (Here one sees the overlap of patronage and friendship.)
Don't forget the intervention of Rivet above.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Hydraulics, Instruments, Mechanical Devices, Navigation
In 1619 he was consulted, as an expert, on a plan to rid the harbor of Middleburg of sandbars.
In 1621 he repaired the waterlines (aqueducts) for a brewery.
In 1620 he was consulted about a proposed new horsedriven mill that was based on a perpetual motion concept. His negative opinion was triumphantly vindicated.
He worked at improving telescopes, and apparently did improve on the grinding of lenses.
In 1636 he was appointed to the commision (of the Netherlands) to judge Galileo's proposal to determine longitude.
See the information below about the Collegium Mechanicum.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Friendship and correspondence with Snel, Descartes, Gassendi, Mersenne, Stampioen, Blaeu.
He founded a Collegium Mechanicum, a society of craftsmen and scholars who occupied themselves with scientific problems, especially those that had technological application--for example, a windmill with horizontal sails on a vertical axis, and questions of mater management such as attempts to remove a sandbar from the Middleburg harbor.
  1. de Waard, "Beeckman," Nieuw Nederlands Biografisch Woordenboek.
  2. E.J.Dijksterhus, Val en Worp, (Groningen, 1924), pp. 304-321.
  3. QA802 .D575
  4. R.Hooykaas,"Science and Religion in the 17th century; Isaac Beeckman (1588-1637)," Free University Quarterly, 1, (1951), pp. 169-183. LB2300 .U48
  5. Klaas Van Berkel, Isaac Beeckman ed de mechanisiering van der wereldbeeld.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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