Surveyor's level, about 1785
Made by Benjamin Rittenhouse, a leading instrument maker in eighteenth-century America, this level was originally owned by George Gilpin, chief surveyor of the Potowmack Canal Company. In 1786 the company, headed by George Washington, began constructing a series of canals to improve navigation along the Potomac River. After Gilpin's death in 1813, Thomas Ellicott, son of the surveyor Andrew Ellicott, purchased the level, which remained in the family until 1997, when it was donated to the National Museum of American History. It is the earliest American-made surveyor's level in the collections.
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