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When was the Compass Invented

The compass is a very important navigational instrument that determines direction relative to the Earth’s magnetic poles. But when was the compass invented? Who invented the compass? This post will answer those questions!

When was the Compass Invented?

This question is actually difficult to answer. Different historians believe that the compass was invented at different times. I will discuss the different theories in bullet points!

  • Some suggest that the first compass was invented sometime between 1400 and 1000 BC by the Olmec. However, there is little evidence that it could be used to tell direction. Others believe it was merely a decorative item.
  • The earliest written record of ‘magnetism’ is found in Chinese manuscripts from around 400 BC. There is some mention that a ‘south pointer’ could be used to stop hunters getting lost but it is disputed whether it actually refers to a compass.
  • The Chinese also first noticed the attraction of a needle by a magnet sometime between 40 and 50 AD. A scholar constructed a compass following this written record but there is no evidence of any explicit reference to a ‘magnet’. There is also no evidence that a compass was constructed at this time.
  • A book dated to 1040-1044 AD is the first mention of using an instrument that ‘pointed to the south’ as a ‘direction finder’. Still, no clear reference to a compass.
  • However, in 1088 AD there is a very clear reference to a magnetized needle. The first reference to using this as a navigational device is in a book written between 1111 and 1117 AD.

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