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La Hire, Philippe de [Philippe I]

1. Dates
Born: Paris, 18 March 1640
Died: Paris, 21 April 1718
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 78 2. Family Financial Circumstance: Gov He was the eldest son of Laurent de La Hire, peintre ordinaire du roi, and founder and professor at the Académie Royale de Peinture and Sculpture. La Hire's father was also one of the first disciples of Desargues. No information on financial status.
2. Father
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: No University
He was educated among artists and technicians. At an early age he became interested in perspective, practical mechanics, drawing and painting.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Astronomy, Mathematics, Mechanics
Subordinate: Zoology, Physiology, Meteorology
After his father's death he spent four years in Venice where he developed his artistic talent and studied classical geometry. Upon his return to France he was active primarily as an artist.
He formed a friendship with Abraham Bosse, Desargues last disciple, who asked La Hire to solve a problem in stonecutting. In 1673 La Hire published Nouvelle methode en géometrie pour les sections des superficies coniques et cylindriques from his research in constructing conic sections. Twelve years later he published a much more extensive work, Sectiones conicae, through which Desargues' projective geometry became known.
La Hire published three works in one volume which, though not original, provided an exposition of the properties of conic sections and the progress of analytic geometry during the half century.
After his nomination to the Académie La Hire became active as an astronomer. He produced tables of the movements of the sun, moon, and the planets. He studied the instrumental techniques and particular problems of observation. From 1679-1682 he made several observations and measurements (occasionally with Picard) of different points along the French coastline. He continued his involvment in the mapping project of France (1683) by extending the meridian of Paris to the north.
In 1683 he participated in the experiment of falling bodies with Mariotte. The following two years he directed the surveying operations to provide water to Versailles. He devoted several works to the methods and instruments of surveying, land measuring, and gnomics.
La Hire's work also extended to descriptive zoology, the study of respiration, and physiological optics.
During his many travels he made observations in natural science, meteorology, and physics. At the Paris observatory he conducted experiments in terrestrial magnetism, pluviometry, thermometry, and barometry.
In 1695 he published Traité de mécanique, an important work in the development of modern manuals of manuals.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Government, Academia
In 1683 La Hire received the chair of mathematics at the Collège Royale. He gave courses in astronomy, mechanics, hydrostatics, dioptrics, and navigation.
He became professor of architecture at the Académie Royale (of Architecture) in 1687. For the next thirty years he gave lectures on the theory of architecture.
Throughout his tenure at the Académie des sciences he made several trips for the mapping project of France in addition to his work at the Paris observatory.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Government Official
He enjoyed the patronage of Colbert and Louvois in his position at the Académie. Through his position at the Académie he enjoyed the patronage of the court. He made two planispheres which the king had placed in the pavillons de Marly.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Applied Mathematics, Cartography, Instruments, Hydraulics, Navigation, Architecture, Mechanical Devices
He developed a leveling instrument for use in surveying.
At the Collège La Hire lectured on navigation, inter alia.
He suggested the epicycloidal profile for gear teeth.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Académie Royal des Sciences, 1678-1718
He was nominated astronome pensionnaire in 1678. He participated in several projects of the Académie. He even edited various writings of his colleagues, Picard, Mariotte, Roberval, and Frenicle.
  1. Hoefer, Nouvelle biographie générale, 28.
  2. Michaud, Biographie générale, 23.
  3. Fontenelle, Oeuvres Complètes de Fontenelle, (Paris, 1818), 1, 257-266.
  4. Edmond R. Kiely, Surveying Instruments, (New York, 1947), p. 132.
  5. A. Jal, Dictionnaire critique de biographie et d'histoire, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1872), pp. 730-1.
  6. L.A. Sédillot, "Les professeurs de mathématiques et de physique générale au Collège de France," Bollettino de bibliografia e di storia delle scienze matematiche e fisiche, 2 (1869), 343- 510, especially 498.
  7. René Taton, "La première oeuvre géométrique de Philippe de la Hire," Revue d'histoire des sciences, 6 (1953), 93-111.
  8. H. Wieleitner, Über die 'Plani-Coniques' von de la Hire," Archiv für die Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und der Technik, 5 (1913), 49-55. Nothing biographical in this article.
  9. Christian Sandler, Die Reformation der Kartographie un 1700, (München and Berlin, 1905).
  10. M. Daumas, ed. Histoire générale des techniques, 2 (Paris, 1964), 285-6, 540-1.
  11. This extensive bibliography is misleading. It records my effort to find something about him beyond the small budget of information in Fontenelle's éloge, which is apparently the source of every biographical treatment of La Hire. There is an extraordinary dearth of material on this important man.
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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