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Biography of Robert Hooke

Portrait of Robert Hooke

Robert Hooke was a seventeenth century scientist.

When and Where was he Born?

18th July 1635, Freshwater, Isle of White.

Family background:

Robert Hooke was the son of John Hooke, curate in charge of the parish of Freshwater.


Westminster School, London. Christ Church, Oxford.

Timeline of Robert Hooke:

1648: Death of his father. Robert is sent to London for a trial with the painter Sir Peter Lely, but then moves to Westminster School, where the Headmaster Dr Richard Busby realises his genius.

1653: Hooke takes a scholar’s place at Christ Church College, Oxford. He works as an assistant to John Wilkins, Warden of Wadham College, on flying machines. Wilkins was known as the leader of the Oxford Scientific Club. He also becomes friends with Christopher Wren.

1655: Hooke assists Robert Boyle on the construction of his air pump.

Robert Hooke
Plaque to Boyle and Hooke in Oxford High Street

1658: He develops the circular pendulum in watches but refuses the terms of a patent which is suggested by Boyle and the discovery remains unknown for several years.

1660: He proposes “Hookes Law” which states that the force required to stretch an elastic material (such as a spring) is directly proportional to the distance of the extension or compression of the said material. He also invents the balance spring.

1661: Boyle works on capillary attraction.

1662: He is appointed the first Curator of Experiments at the newly founded Royal Society of London but did not sit with the full members such as Robert Boyle, Christopher Wren, Wilkins and others, but as an employee.

1663: He is elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in June.

1664: Hooke is the first person to state that the planet Jupiter rotates. Sir John Cutler founds a lecture series for Hooke at a yearly salary of £50 and he delivers astronomical lectures at Gresham College, London as a locum for Dr Pope. He establishes the number of vibrations corresponding to musical notes.

1665: His major work “Micrographia” is published in January. He is created Professor of Geometry at Gresham College. By now he is a full member of the Royal Society and becomes the first salaried research assistant in Great Britain at a rate of £30 per year at Gresham. He lives in College buildings until the end of his days. There is a short break to escape the plague as he moves to Epsom, employed as an assistant to Dr Wilkins and Sir William Petty at Durdans, the home of the Earl of Berkeley

1666: Hooke gives a discourse on gravity at the Royal Society and suggests measuring its force by means of a pendulum. He also presents the first screw-divided quadrant, an anemometer, and a weather-clock (barometer).

1667: After the Great fire of London Hooke was appointed as City Surveyor and he designs the new Bethlehem Hospital (now Imperial War Museum) and Montague House amongst other buildings. He gives a lecture on earthquakes at the Royal Society.

1669: He works on the earliest attempts at at measuring the parallax of a fixed star.

1672: He publishes a paper on the diffraction of light which is in contradiction to Isaac Newton’s earlier lecture to the Royal Society.

1674: He writes “Attempt to Prove the Motion of the Earth” which outlines his ideas on gravity. He constructs the first Gregorian telescope.

1675: He is again in dispute with Newton and says that his Discourse on Colour was already contained within “Micrographia”. Newton finally claims originality but acknowledges the importance of the earlier work done by Hooke. Hooke allows Thomas Tompion to make some of his new watches.

1676: Hooke publishes the principles of spiral springs in “A Description of Helioscopes”. This starts a argument with the secretary of the Royal Society, Oldenburg whom Hooke accuses of being “a trafficker in intelligence”.

1677: Hooke forced to retract his remarks on Oldenburg and is appointed Secretary to the Royal Society of London on Oldenburg’s death.

1678: He anticipated Newton’s Law of Inverse Square in gravitation. He anticipated the discovery of the Steam Engine.

1679: A letter from Hooke to Newton encourages him to “resume his former thoughts concerning the Moon” but inclusion of this in Newton’s “Principia” leads to further protests from Hooke, so much so that Newton was to delay the publication of his work on “Optics” until after Hooke’s death.

1682: Hooke becomes increasingly paranoid and adopts a policy of secrecy to prevent infringement of his intellectual rights. He also gives up a Secretary to the Royal Society.

1684: Hooke is the first person to suggest a practical system for telegraphy.

1687: His niece Grace Hooke, whom he was intimate with in his youth dies and brings on a bout of depression.

1691: He is created Doctor of Physic at Doctors’ Commons which was a self-governing teaching body of practitioners of canon and civil law in London.

1693: He lectures on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”.

1696: The Royal Society offer to pay for his experiments but by now his health is failing.

1700: Edmond Halley explains Robert Hooke’s last invention, a marine telescope, to the Royal Society.

1702: Hooke becomes blind.

When and Where did he Die?

3rd March 1703, London, England after being bedridden for the last year of his life.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1665: “Micrographia”.
1667: “Lectures of Spring”.
1674: “Attempt to Prove the Motion of the Earth”.
1676: “A Description of Helioscopes”.
1677: “Lampas, or a Description of some Mechanical Improvements of Lamps and Water-poises”.


Never married.

Site of Grave:

St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, City of London, England.

Robert Hooke Memorial
Memorial to Hooke in St Paul’s Cathedral,  London
(copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


Parish Church at Willen designed for his old Headmaster.


Bethlehem Hospital (Now Imperial War Museum).
Royal Society of London.
Montague House.


Museum of the History of Science.


Ragley Hall (Designed by Hooke).

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