Biography of Robert Hooke

Illustration of Hooke's Law on elasticity of materials, showing stretching of a spring, 1678.
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Robert Hooke was perhaps the single greatest experimental scientist of the 17th century, responsible for developing a concept hundreds of years ago that would result in coil springs that are still used widely today.

About Robert Hooke 

Hooke actually considered himself a philosopher, not an inventor. Born in 1635 on England’s Isle of Wight, he studied classics in school, then went on to Oxford University where he worked as an assistant to Thomas Willis, a physician.

Hooke became a member of the Royal Society and is credited with discovering cells

Hooke was peering through a microscope one day in 1665 when he noticed pores or cells in a piece of cork tree. He decided these were containers for the “noble juices” of the substance he was inspecting. He assumed at the time that these cells were unique to plants, not to all living matter, but he is nonetheless given credit for discovering them.

The Coil Spring

Hooke conceived of what would become known as “Hooke’s Law" 13 years later in 1678. This premise explains the elasticity of solid bodies, a discovery which led to the development of tension increasing and decreasing in a spring coil. He observed that when an elastic body is subjected to stress, its dimension or shape changes in proportion to the applied stress over a range. On the basis of his experiments with springs, stretching wires and coils, Hooke stated a rule between extension and force which would become known as Hooke’s Law:

Strain and the relative change in dimension is proportional to stress. If the stress applied to a body goes beyond a certain value known as the elastic limit, the body does not return to its original state once the stress is removed. Hooke's law applies only in the region below the elastic limit. Algebraically, this rule has the following form: F = kx.

Hooke's Law would eventually become the science behind coil springs. He died in 1703, never having married or had children.

Hooke’s Law Today

Automobile suspension systems, playground toys, furniture and even retractable ballpoint pens employ springs these days. Most have an easily predicted behavior when force is applied. But someone had to take Hooke’s philosophy and put it to use before all these useful tools could be developed.

R. Tradwell received the first patent for a coil spring in 1763 in Great Britain. Leaf springs were all the rage at the time, but they required significant maintenance, including regular oiling. The coil spring was much more efficient and less squeaky. 

It would be almost another hundred years before the first coil spring made of steel found its way into furniture: It was used in an armchair in 1857. 

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Bellis, Mary. "Biography of Robert Hooke." ThoughtCo, Apr. 3, 2017, Bellis, Mary. (2017, April 3). Biography of Robert Hooke. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Biography of Robert Hooke." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 19, 2018).