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Hooke, Robert

1. Dates
Born: Freshwater, Isle of Wight, 18 July 1635
Died: London, 3 March 1703
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 68
2. Father
Occupation: Cleric
John Hooke was a minister, curate of Freshwater; he died in 1648.
No fully clear information on financial status. I am tempted to guess. Curates were notoriously underpaid, and Hooke was apparently left without much when his father died. However, a dead father is a different affair from a living one, and I see enough uncertainty that I will mark financial status as unknown.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford
Westminster School, 1648.
Oxford University, Christ Church, 1658.
He was initially a chorister and then a servitor. Hooke did not take a B.A. He was nominated for the M.A. by Lord Clarendon, the Chancellor of the university, 1663; I am not going to list it.
M.D. at Doctors' Commons, 1691--this also by patronage, and not listed.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
By assumption more than by evidence.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Microscopy, Mechanics, Instrumentation
Subordinate: Optics, Geology, Physiology
Hooke's first publication was a pamphlet on capillary action in 1661.
Micrographia, 1665, the first important set of observations with the microscope, included a theory of light. Later Hooke delivered a series of lectures on light to the Royal Society. He was the first one to publish the phenomena of thin films and with the phenomena the suggestion that they were periodic.
Lectiones cutlerianae state the law of elasticity that still bears Hooke's name, and the suggestion that a vibrating string is dynamically equivalent to a pendulum. In another of the lectures he proposed the reform in the understanding of circular motion (substituting a force toward the center for one away from it), and with his he also proposed a celestial dynamics based on that principle.
He was very important in the development of all sorts of instruments, not only the microscope, and his writings on method stress the importance of instruments as aids to the senses.
"Lectures and Discourses of Earthquakes," which were spread over a period of thirty years, make Hooke a major figure in early geology, especially in regard to fossils and to crystals.
Micrographia also contained a theory of combustion with the analogy to respiration. Hooke performed experiments about respiration on dogs for the Royal Society.
Hooke ranged very widely and could be listed as well under a number of other sciences. He did a fair bit of astronomical observation; he was the first to infer the rotation of Jupiter. He tried to observe parallax. He wrote a discourse on comets. Physics (here subsumed under Mechanics), Natural Philosophy, Meteorology (he has been called the founder of meteorological science), and Music (to which he devoted attention, at the theoretical as well as practical level, throughout his life) would also be valid entries.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Scientific Society, Government, Academia
Secondary: Patronage, Engineering, Miscellaneous
Inherited 100 from his father in 1648. However, this money apparentlty went for a short-lived apprenticeship.
Hooke was in Boyle's employ from 1657-62. His first publication came during this time, and he dedicated it to Boyle. Apparently Boyle continued to pay him until 1664, when he had gained sufficient means of support.
Curator of experiments of the Royal Society, 1662-77, 30/year plus the privilege of lodging at Gresham College.
Secretary of the Royal Society, 1677-82.
Surveyor to reestablish property lines and to supervise the rebuilding, 1666-76. Keynes asserts that he was Wren's paid deputy during the rebuilding.
Professor of geometry at the Gresham College, 1665- , 50/year.
Lecturer on mechanics (Cutlerian Lectures), 1664- , 50/year--but he had trouble collecting this money and had to take Cutler to court. I list this as patronage.
Hooke was employed as an architect by a number of private patrons, including Boyle's sister, Lady Ranelagh. I categorize this under Engineering.
8. Patronage
Types: Scientist, Government Official, Court Official, Gentry, Eccesiastic Official
Boyle especially was Hooke's patron, beginning in the period at Oxford. The relation verges on mere employment, but Hooke's dedication of his first book to Boyle, together with Boyle's continued support of him in London until Hooke had gained sufficient income and Boyle's contribution to his observing turret, all incline me to consider the relation as patronage. Together with Willis, Boyle recommended Hooke to the Royal Society, and from this time Hooke's experimental studies in physics received support from the Royal Society,
Lord Clarendon nominated him for an M.A. in 1663.
Hooke dedicated Micrographia to Charles II.
He dedicated the first Cutlerian lectures (An Attempt to Prove the Motion of the Earth, 1674) to Sir John Cutler. He dedicated the sixth (Lectures and Collections, 1678) to Sir Joseph Williamson, then President of the Royal Society).
He was created a doctor of physic at Doctors' Commons by a warrant from Archbishop Tilloston in 1691.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Architecture, Navigation, Cartography, Mechanical Devices
Scientific instruments: Modern air pump, wheel barometer, double barometer, the anchor escapement of clocks, spring driven watches, marine barometer, arithmetic machine, the first Gregorian telescope.
Optical instruments, especially the microscope. He also developed a micrometer and applied telescopic sights to surveying instruments.
His contributions to instrumentation go on and on-- suggested the freezing point of water as the zero point on the thermometer; proposed a weather clock to record barometric pressure, temperature, rainfall, humidity, and wind velocity on a rotating drum; proposed an equatorial quadrant; a number of different scales; a number of levels; a depth-sounding machine; a refractometer to measure the index of refraction of liquids; surveying instruments, a way-wiser attached to a carriage to measure distances.
Some of the instruments shade into mechanical devices--the first dividing engine, the first spiral gear (to adjust the setting of telescopes), the universal joint, the iris diaphragm, a lense grinding machine.
In addition there were purely mechanical devices--a variety of carriages, a windmill that would turn itself to the wind, a new type of horizontal sail for windmills, a springy saddle, an air gun.
His work on watches always had navigation, the determination of longitude, as its purpose.
Involved in the work of rebuilding London city after the Great Fire as a surveyor and architect--list this as architecture and cartography. He was architect of the Royal College of Physicians, Bethlehem (Bedlam) Hospital, the Monument, and a number of private houses including Montague House.
He probably did a map of the polar regions for Pitt's English Atlas. He shared in the cartographical schemes of John Ogilby and John Adams.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: close friendship with Christopher Wren, 1666-1702; relationship (usually hostile) with Newton; relationship with Boyle and Willis; friendship with Halley, Christopher Cock and Papin, intimate relationship with Harry Hunt, whom he treated like a son, intimate friendship with Aubrey.
Royal Society, 1662-1702; Curator of experiments, 1662-77; Secretary, 1677-82.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 9, 1177-81. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 4, 2652-63.
  2. John Ward, The Lives of the Professors of Gresham College, facsimile ed. (New York, 1967), pp. 169-93.
  3. Margaret 'Espinasse, Robert Hooke, (London, 1956). Q143 .H78E77 John Aubrey, Brief Lives, 1, 409-16.
  4. R.S. Westfall, Introduction, Posthumous Works, reprint ed. (New York, 1969). Richard Waller, "The Life of Dr. Robert Hooke," Posthumous Works, (London, 1705).
  5. E.N. da C. Andrade, "Robert Hooke," Procedings of the Royal Society, 201A (1950) 439-73.
  6. _____, "Robert Hooke, F.R.S. (1635-1703)," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 15 (1960), 137-45.
  7. Robert McKeon, "Le debut de l'astronomie de precision," Physis, 13 (1971), 225-88; 14 (1972), 221-42; especially 13, 244-5 and 14, 229-30.
  8. Michael Hunter and Simon Schaffer, eds. Robert Hooke: New Studies, (Woodbridge, England, 1989).
  9. J.A. Bennett, "Robert Hooke as Mechanic and Natural Philosopher," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 35 (1980-1), 33-48.
  10. Geoffrey Keynes, A Bibliography of Dr. Robert Hooke, (Oxford, 1960). Penelope Gouk, "The Role of Acoustics and Music Theory in the Scientific Work of Robert Hooke," Annals of Science, 37 (1980), 573-605.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. E.G.R. Taylor, "Robert Hooke and the Cartographical Projects of the Late Seventeenth Century," Geographical Journal, 9 (1937), 529-40.
  2. W.S. Middleton, "The Medical Aspect of Robert Hooke," Annals of Medical History, 9 (1927), 227-43.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
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