Biography of Charles Marie de La Condamine

About the thinker Charles Marie de La Condamine, biography and history of the man who answered the question whether the earth was flat or round.

CHARLES MARIE DE LA CONDAMINE (1701-1774). Is the Earth Shaped Like a Potbellied Man in a Tight Belt or Is It Flat Top and Bottom?

The French philosopher Voltaire once won 500,000 francs in a lottery because Charles Marie de La Condamine, in order to win the friendship of the great figure, advised him about a miscalculation in the game. The sum of the ticket prices for the lottery happened to be far less than the prize. So Voltaire bought up all the tickets and won. Then it came time to settle a controversy raging in scientific circles: Was the earth an oblate spheroid, flattened at the poles, as Englishman Isaac Newton said, or was it nipped in at the equator "much as a potbellied man might [look if he pulled] in his girth by taking a few notches in his belt," as Frenchman Jacques Dominique de Cassini claimed? Voltaire backed his friend La Condamine as leader of one of the expeditions to measure the earth in order to decide the question once and for all. His choice was a good one, for La Condamine was a scientist as well as an aristocrat, a student of geodesy and an astronomer. Consequently he spent nine years making meticulous measurements at the equator in Ecuador to determine the earth's girth, while another expedition measured the circumference through the North Pole from Lapland. La Condamine's surveys covered a section amounting to 2 deg. of surface in the Andes, and he took rubber back to Europe--he carried his instruments in a bag of cloth waterproofed with rubber by the Indians--as well as quinine from the cinchona tree, and rotenone, which is now used as an insecticide.

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