E.S. Ritchie & Sons c.1850

American inventor and physicist Edward Samuel Ritchie (1814-1895) established E.S. Ritchie & Sons in the mid 1800s, manufacturers and merchants of compasses and nautical equipment for all types of ships. Ritchie is considered to be the most important science mind and inventor in nautical instrument innovation of 19th century America. His award-winning and patented compass designs became the standards for the marine industry.

 With a gifted dexterity and keen mind for the sciences, Dorchester born Ritchie co-founded Chamberlain & Ritchie manufacturers of mechanical and electrical instruments in 1850 with fellow inventor Nathan B. Chamberlain (1809-1878) in several locations around Boston notably the area of Downtown Crossing. In 1860, Ritchie engaged in the development of the first major advancement in "several hundred years" in marine bearing compass technology with the gimbal fastened, liquid-filled floating compass card. This improvement allowed the compass to regulate itself as the ship pitched, for example and led to a profitable contract manufacturing navigational equipment for the US Navy. Ritchie also improved upon the technology of the theodolite; a precision instrument for measuring angles in the horizontal and vertical planes. 



When Ritchie and Chamberlain parted ways Ritchie incorporated E.S. Ritchie & Son (subsequently E.S. Ritchie & Sons) in 1866 where he remained a merchant and respected authority on the mechanics of navigational and philosophical instruments. His sons eventually transferred the business of scientific instruments and maintained the nautical navigational component of the company which continues to operate as Ritchie Navigation within the family today in Pembroke, Massachusetts, just a few short minutes down the road from the Lannan Gallery of Norwell. 

The Lannan Gallery always has numerous navigational antiques stamped with the Ritchie label. 


Researched & Compiled by Susan Donnelly