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Petit, Pierre

1. Dates
Born: Lagny-sur-Marne, 20 Aug 1677
Died: cb
Dateinfo: 83 2, Father: Gov A minor provincial official. No information on financial status.
Lifespan: N/A
2. Father
3. Nationality
Birth: Montlucon, France
Career: France
Death: Lagny-sur-Marne, France
4. Education
Schooling: No University
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic (assumed)
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Physics, Astronomy
7. Means of Support
Primary: Government
1626, he became controleur de l'election in Montlucon.
1633, traveled to Paris where he was appointed commissaire provincial de l'artillerie and Ingenieur du roi, charged with visiting all the ports of France and Italy.
1642, he is listed as conseiller du roi, ingenieur du roi, and geographe du roi.
1649, he became Intendant General des Fortifications.
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, Court Official
Petit's father was a minor provincial official. He resigned his post as controleur for his son's sake.
Richelieu was directly responsible for his appointment in 1633.
Louis XIV commissioned Petit to write a work on comets. Dissertation sur la nature des Cometes (1665) is dedicated to Louis.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Military Engineering, Civil Engineering, Cartography
His collection of telescopes and instruments was among the best in Paris. It included a filar micrometer, which Petit invented or developed, later used by Cassini I. There is debate as to whether Petit was independent of Auzout in this instrument.
I assume some familiarity with military and civil engineering and cartography, based on the positions he held.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
He was a member of the group of savants meeting at Mersenne's lodgings, and worked with or knew a large number of the scientists of the period. In 1646 he collaborated with Blaise Pascal repeating Torricelli's experiments on barometric vacuum [Pierre Humbert, L'oeuvre scientifique de Blaise Pascal (Paris, 1947), pp. 73 ff.]. A member of the Montmor academy, he was a forceful advocate for the establishment of an official scientific organization, but was passed over by Colbert in the initial selection of members of the Academie in 1666. As far as I know, he never was made a member. [see Harcourt Brown, Scientific Organizations in the Seventeenth Century (Baltimore, 1934), passim]
He was a regular correspondent with Henry Oldenburg and played a central role facilitating the exchange of ideas between the two communities. He was elected a foreign fellow of the Royal Society in 1667.
  1. J. Michaud, Biographie universelle, 33 (Paris, 1823), 484-5 [CT153.B6].
  2. Piere Bayle, Grande Dictionnaire Historique..., 7 (Amsterdam, 1740), 151 [D9.M8 v.7]. Nouvelle biographie générale, 39, (Paris, 1863), cols. 709-10 [Lilly RR CT143.H7 1963 v. 39].
  3. Robert McKeon, "Les débuts de l'astronomie de precision," Physis, 13 (1971), 225-88; 14 (1972), 221-42; especially 13, 254-6 and 269-75.
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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