It’s almost certain that everyone reading this has next to know clue who the hell Robert Hooke is, with the small exception of the few of you who remember being taught Hookes law in physics class. Well, you can thank Isaac Newton for that.
Now you’re probably thinking, there are hundreds of people who made contributions to science that aren’t well known, such is the curse of toiling away in an area of the world few people will ever be able to fully grasp or understand, so why should Robert Hooke be any different? Well the answer is Robert Hooke didn’t just make one small contribution to science, he practically authored an entire chapter by himself.
As noted here, Hooke was a self-educated child prodigy who built a working clock out of wood and coal when he was still a kid, a time when most of us were still arguing about whether Spider-man could beat up Batman. Hooke also coined the word “cell” after discovering them in 1665 and basically kick-started the whole idea of cell theory as an area of science, and that wasn’t even the area of science he specialised in!
Hooke was also directly responsible for helping rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666 by personally carrying out around 50% of the land surveys and measurements required to actually rebuild everything in its proper place. Again, this wasn’t even Hooke’s general area of expertise. This was just the kind of shit he did in his spare time.
Hooke is mostly known for discovering the law of elasticity, which is today called “Hooke’s law” in his honor, but his contribution to physics and science was so much greater than that. You see, Hooke basically postulated and theorised the existence of gravity decades before Isaac Newton did and he even spoke at length with the physicist about his ideas years before Newton ever outlined the theory of gravitation itself. However, despite all of his skills, Hooke wasn’t as gifted a mathematician as Newton and although his ideas and theories were technically sound, he lacked the the mental acuity to prove them.
When Newton later wrote science punching book, Principia, Hooke was little more than a footnote. When Hooke rather rightly took offence to his contribution to being downplayed, Newton called him an asshole. As we’ve already mentioned before, Newton’s famous “standing on the shoulders of giants” speech was a deliberate shot at Hooke, you know, the guy who’d theorised gravity a decade before he did.
According to historians, Newton never forgave Hooke for this, and when Hooke died, Newton began taking a more active role in the Royal Society, of which Hooke himself had been a council member. Due to his status as a pimp-king of science, it wasn’t long before Newton was placed in charge of the entire society and when the time came for the society to move to another building, Robert Hooke’s portrait that had proudly hung on the walls, disappeared.
Today, there is no known image of Hooke said exists, the image at the top of this very page is simply an approximation made by an artist using various descriptions of Hooke’s features from ages ago. What makes this worse is that Hooke was a man of many talents, one of which happened to be drawing, and although no pictures of his actual face survived, a bunch of his drawings did. Meaning we literally don’t know what Hooke looked like, but we do know what a flea who bit his hand looked like because all of those drawings happened to survive Newton’s revenge boner.
Damn we knew Newton knew how to get his own back on people before, but this is just silly.