Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, & Technology
Back to the LHL Home Page | Back to the Exhibitions Home Page

British Bridges
Missouri Bridges

Strength and Design

Strength of Materials
Designing an Arch
Dresden Bridge
Pont de Neuilly

Centuries of Civil Engineering

Hooke, Robert (1635-1703)
Lectiones Cutlerianæ, or A collection of lectures: physical, mechanical, geographical, & astronomical.
London: Printed for John Martyn, 1679.
Water Supply
Image Index


It was Robert Hooke who discovered that the line of an arch, for supporting any weight assigned, should be the inversion of the shape of a catenary, or hanging chain, which is bearing that weight. He apparently announced that he had made the discovery to the Royal Society of London around 1671, but he did not provide any details until 1675, and then the details were encrypted. In an appendix to his Description of Helioscopes, he stated that he had found "a true mathematical and mechanical form of all manner of Arches for Building," and the solution was: "abcccddeeeeeefggiiiiiiii-illmmmmnnnnnooprrsssttttttuuuuuuuux." Unlike Hooke’s law of the spring, which he announced with a similar anagram, Hooke did not provide a translation in his lifetime, but it was provided by his executor in 1705: "Ut pendet continuum flexile, sic stabit contiguum rigidum inversum--As hangs a flexible cable, so inverted, stand the touching pieces of an arch."

We display the page showing Hooke’s announcement; the "law of the arch" anagram is in paragraph 2. Paragraph 3, which follows immediately, contains the much more succinct anagram for Hookes’ law of springs: "ceiiinossssttuu," or "ut tensio, sic vis as the deflection, so is the force."


Home Credits Order Brochure
Copyright©2002 Linda Hall Library, 5109 Cherry St., Kansas City, Missouri 64110-2498 USA. (816) 363-4600.  If you have questions or comments about this site, send mail to the exhibition curator or to webmaster.  For reference questions, send mail to Reference or to the exhibition curator.  Most recent site update: October 28, 2002