Have you ever heard of the harmonograph? If not, or if at the most you have very hazy ideas as to what it is, let me explain. It is an instrument for recording on paper, or on some other suitable surface, the figures described by two or more pendulums acting in concert.

The simplest form of harmonograph is shown in Fig. 168. Two pendulums are so suspended on points that their respective directions of movement are at right angles to one another--that is, pendulum A can swing only north and south, as it were, and pendulum B only east and west. On the top of B is a platform to carry a card, and on the upper end of A a lever is pivoted so as to be able to swing only vertically upwards and downwards. At its end this lever carries a pen, which when at rest lies on the centre of the card platform.

The bob, or weight, of a pendulum can be clamped at any point on its rod, so that the rate or "period" of swing may be adjusted or altered. The nearer the weight is brought to the point of suspension, the oftener will the pendulum swing to and fro in a given time--usually taken as one minute. From this it is obvious that the rates of swing of the two pendulums can be adjusted relatively to one another. If they are exactly equal, they are said to be in unison, and under these conditions the instrument would trace figures varying in outline between the extremes of a straight line on the one hand and a circle on the other. A straight line would result if both pendulums were released at the same time, a circle,[1] if one were released when the other had half finished a swing, and the intermediate ellipses would be produced by various alterations of "phase," or time of the commencement of the swing of one pendulum relatively to the commencement of the swing of the other.

But the interest of the harmonograph centres round the fact that the periods of the pendulums can be tuned to one another. Thus, if A be set to swing twice while B swings three times, an entirely new series of figures results; and the variety is further increased by altering the respective amplitudes of swing and phase of the pendulums.

Simple Rectilinear Harmonograph

Fig. 168. Simple Rectilinear Harmonograph.

[1: It should be pointed out here that the presence of friction reduces the "amplitude," or distance through which a pendulum moves, at every swing; so that a true circle cannot be produced by free swinging pendulums, but only a spiral with coils very close together.]

We have now gone far enough to be able to point out why the harmonograph is so called. In the case just mentioned the period rates of A and B are as 2: 3. Now, if the note C on the piano be struck the strings give a certain note, because they vibrate a certain number of times per second. Strike the G next above the C, and you get a note resulting from strings vibrating half as many times again per second as did the C strings--that is, the relative rates of vibration of notes C and G are the same as those of pendulums A and B--namely, as 2 is to 3. Hence the "harmony" of the pendulums when so adjusted is known as a "major fifth," the musical chord produced by striking C and G simultaneously.

In like manner if A swings four times to B's five times, you get a "major third;" if five times to B's six times, a "minor third;" and if once to B's three times, a "perfect twelfth;" if thrice to B's five times, a "major sixth;" if once to B's twice, an "octave;" and so on.

So far we have considered the figures obtained by two pendulums swinging in straight lines only. They are beautiful and of infinite variety, and one advantage attaching to this form of harmonograph is, that the same figure can be reproduced exactly an indefinite number of times by releasing the pendulums from the same points.

But a fresh field is opened if for the one-direction suspension of pendulum B we substitute a gimbal, or universal joint, permitting movement in all directions, so that the pendulum is able to describe a more or less circular path. The figures obtained by this simple modification are the results of compounded rectilinear and circular movements.

The reader will probably now see even fresh possibilities if both pendulums are given universal movement. This can be effected with the independent pendulums; but a more convenient method of obtaining equivalent results is presented in the Twin Elliptic Pendulum invented by Mr. Joseph Goold, and shown in Fig. 169. It consists of --(1) a long pendulum, free to swing in all directions, suspended from the ceiling or some other suitable point. The card on which the figure is to be traced, and the weights, are placed on a platform at the bottom of this pendulum. (2) A second and shorter free pendulum, known as the "deflector," hung from the bottom of the first.

This form of harmonograph gives figures of infinite variety and of extreme beauty and complexity. Its chief drawback is its length and weight, which render it more or less of a fixture.

Fortunately, Mr. C. E. Benham of Colchester has devised a Miniature Twin Elliptic Pendulum which possesses the advantages of the Goold, but can be transported easily and set up anywhere. This apparatus is sketched in Fig. 170. The main or platform pendulum resembles in this case that of the Rectilinear Harmonograph, the card platform being above the point of suspension.