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Whipple Museum Cambridge now home to a prototype navigation computer from 1935



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Today we all carry global positioning system technology around with us in our pocket – but if you wanted to determine your position on the globe in 1935, things were a little different.

Morgan Bell at the Whipple Museum with one of its newly acquired items. Picture: Keith Heppell
Morgan Bell at the Whipple Museum with one of its newly acquired items. Picture: Keith Heppell

The Whipple Museum of the History of Science is now home to a prototype navigation computer from the period. It was Henry Hughes & Son’s attempt to win the race between companies to perfect the instrument.

Morgan Bell, collections manager at the University of Cambridge museum, said: “The Whipple Museum has a fund for buying objects, which was donated by the museum’s founder Robert Stewart Whipple, so we bought it in an auction.

Morgan Bell at the Whipple Museum with one of its newly acquired items. Picture: Keith Heppell
Morgan Bell at the Whipple Museum with one of its newly acquired items. Picture: Keith Heppell

“It’s rare because it’s a prototype – this is the only example known to survive, as the company never, as far as we’re aware, produced any for sale. We have another similar example by another maker that appears to have been patented around 1886. So clearly there were multiple companies trying to develop a usable instrument of this type – but we don’t yet know how successful they were.”

The object’s online database record can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3FaSHxa.

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