In 1714 the British government established the Board of Longitude and held a contest: Who can come up with a system to accurately tell where you are at sea? The Royal Navy disaster on the Isles of Scilly had caused a reaction from the British public—they’d seen their own sailors drowned on the coast of their own country. Whether that disaster was the motive for creating the Board of Longitude may be disputed, but there’s no doubt a better, more accurate system of finding your location at sea needed to be found.
The Longitude Act, ‘An Act for providing a Publick Reward for such Person or Persons as shall discover the Longitude at Sea,’ was passed. The government offered up to £20,000 for a method of finding longitude at sea to within half a degree. That’s a lot of clams!
The Board of Longitude included scientists and astronomers who would judge the quality of any longitude systems that were submitted. One was the Astronomer Royal who worked at the Greenwich (GREN-itch) Observatory. I think if I ever got my career to the point where my job-title was Astronomer Royal I would consider myself to have arrived.
Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space