In Hooke’s era, the reliance on classical authors was being gradually replaced by a growing awareness that modern men could make new discoveries by observation and experimentation. This may seem obvious to us, but at the time it was a revolution.

The newly established Royal Society aimed to support this new approach, reflected in its motto nullius in verba, or ‘don’t take anyone’s word for it’. Hooke threw himself into creating experiments for the Royal Society, and in the Preface to Micrographia, he calls for a ‘reformation in Philosophy’, stating that, ‘the truth is, the Science of Nature has been already too long made only a work of the Brain and the Fancy: It is now high time that it should return to the plainness and soundness of Observations on material and obvious things.’

Experiments, of course, depended on the accuracy of the senses, so in order to facilitate scientific research, many of the instruments Hooke invented or improved were designed to observe the world more accurately, being ‘as it were, the adding of artificial Organs to the natural.’ These instruments facilitated the expansion of European knowledge, exploration, power and trade in the seventeenth century and beyond.

Hooke speculated in his Preface to Micrographia that, ‘as Glasses have highly promoted our seeing, so ’tis not improbable, but that there may be found many Mechanical Inventions to improve our other Senses, of hearing, smelling, tasting, touching’.

By widening the field of observation and knowledge, Hooke’s new inventions facilitated the expansion of European knowledge, exploration, trade and power.

Hooke invented or improved the following instruments:

  • The barometer
  • An anemometer, to measure wind speed
  • A hygrometer, to measure humidity, using an oat-beard seed which swelled in humid air.
  • The universal joint, still used in cars today.
  • The Gregorian telescope, which used concave mirrors to magnify the object viewed
  • The first screw-divided quadrant
  • A ‘weather-clock’
  • A marine telescope
  • An odometer to measure the distance travelled by a wheeled vehicle.
  • An ‘otocousticon’ as an aid to hearing
  • A reflecting quadrant
  • The anchor escapement inside clocks
  • The sprung watch, with the pendulum replaced by a more reliable spring
Replica of Hooke’s hygrometer. Illustration: National Museum of American History