Thomas Corwin Mendenhall

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Thomas Corwin Mendenhall (October 4, 1841 - March 23, 1924) was an autodidact US physicist and meteorologist.

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Life

Mendenhall was born in Hanoverton, Ohio, and married Susan Allan Marple in 1870. Though he never attended or graduated college, he was teaching at Columbus Central High School by 1861 and, though he lacked a conventional academic formation, was appointed professor of physics and mechanics at Ohio State University in 1873, the first member of the original faculty.

In 1878, on the recommendation of Edward S. Morse, he was recruited to help the modernisation of Meiji Era Japan as one of the o-yatoi gaikokujin (hired foreigners). Serving as visiting professor at the University of Tokyo, he helped develop the government's meteorological service. During his time in Japan, he also gave public lectures on scientific topics.

Returning to Ohio in 1881, Mendenhall was instrumental in developing the state meteorological service before becoming professor at the US Signal Corps in 1884. Resigning in 1886, Mendenhall took up the presidency of the Rose Polytechnic Institute before becoming superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1889. During his time as superintendent, he issued the Mendenhall Order and oversaw the consequent transition of the USA's weights and measures from the customary system, based on that of England, to the metric system. He was also responsible for defining the exact national boundary between the USA and Canada. Mendenhall was president of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute from 1894 until 1901 when he emigrated to Europe.

Mendenhall proposed the ring pendulum as a means of measuring gravity and also worked in the fields of seismology and atmospheric electricity.

He returned to the US in 1922 and died in Ravenna, Ohio.

Honours

Bibliography

Works by Mendenhall

  • Mendenhall, T. C. (1887) A Century of Electricity

Works by others

  • Hebra, A. & Hebra, A. J. (2003) Measure for Measure: The Story of Imperial, Metric, and Other Units ISBN 0801870720
  • Mendenhall, T. C. (Jr.) (1989) American Scientist in Early Meiji Japan: The Autobiographical Notes of Thomas C. Mendenhall ASIN 0824811771
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