Philipp Matthäus Hahn

Biography of Philipp Matthäus Hahn

Already at his lifetime the German vicar Philipp Matthäus Hahn was known in church circles through his theological writings, with princes and nobles by his large astronomical clocks and machines and the upper middle class through its pocket watches, scales and his calculating machine (see calculating machine of Hahn).

Philipp Matthäus Hahn was born on 25 November, 1739, in Scharnhausen auf den Fildern (near Stuttgart), as the second of five children in the family of the pastor Georg Gottfried Hahn (1705–1764) and Juliana Kunigunde Hahn, nee Kaufmann (1711–1752). Philipp Matthäus got his name after his grandfathers—Johann Philipp Kaufmann (1661-1748) from Stuttgart and Matthäus Hahn (1670-1759), a merchant from Sielmingen auf den Fildern. Juliana Hahn died in 1752 and Georg Hahn married second time to Charlotte Dorothea Hahn (nee Maichel), and the new family had five more children.

Hahns was a rather prominent and wealthy local family, known to live in Scharnhausen since 16th century.

As a little boy, Philipp was taught by his father and by his maternal grandfather four years of ancient languages and religion (Latin, Greek and Hebrew). Being only 8 y.o. he became interested in astronomical observations and found in his father's library a book with a description of the celestial sphere, which delighted him for a long time. Two years later, he constructed a simple sundial.

From 1749 to 1754 Philipp attended Latin schools in Esslingen and in Nürtingen, studying religion, but also painting and especially mathematics. During this time he kept his interest in astronomical observations and sundials. In May, 1756, his family moved to Onstmettingen, in the Swabian Jura (Hahn's father was transferred for disciplinary reasons by the consistory there for drunkenness). There Philipp met his future assistant Philipp Gottfried Schaudt (1739-1809), who had learned the art of watchmaking with local craftsmen. This meeting marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship and successful cooperation between the two, because Hahn used Schaudt's technical skills to implement his ideas into practice.

Tübinger Stift nowadays

Tübinger Stift nowadays

On October 22, 1756, Hahn enrolled the Protestant theological seminary Tübinger Stift in Tübingen to study theology, and there continued his occasions with clocks. (It is amazing, that some 150 years before Hahn, in the same college studied also theology the inventor of the first mechanical calculating machineWilhelm Schickard, however Hahn, in contrast to Schickard, later on will reject the proposed to him professorship here.)

Hahn had a hard time in Tübingen, because his father had problems and didn't sent him any money. In 1758 (until 1760) he managed to get a grant from the Widerholt's family foundation, and also got some money from his stepmother. In the same 1758 he (for the first time) also had been paid out for his technical knowledge and his mechanical skill—during the semester break, he got thirty guilders to made a sundial for a church. Together with his friend Schaudt, Hahn made not only sundials, but also mouthpieces and grind lenses for telescopes.

In 1760 Hahn obtained a Master's degree in Philosophy in Tübingen, then worked some time (a year) as a private teacher. At that time Hahn worked on the construction of a Perpetuum Mobile, but soon he realized it is impossible to build such a machine.

In 1761 Hahn started his way in Church as a Vicar in Lorch bei Schwäbisch Gmünd, then in Herrenberg, to receive in 1764 a Vicariate in Onstmettingen, succeeding his father, who had died suddenly. There he (together with his old friend and schoolmate Schaudt) organized a workshop for the construction of scales, astronomical clocks and machines to glory of God. In 1767 he made a big brass and iron astronomical clock, presented to Duke Karl Eugen, the Herzog of Württemberg, who admired the inventor and promptly ordered a larger machine for the Library of Ludwigsburg.

On May 24, 1764, Philipp Hahn married to 15 y.o. Anna Maria Rapp (1749-1775), a daughter of the mayor of Schorndorf Ulrich Rapp. The family had 6 sons, 2 of them died as babies, so left 4—Christoph Matthäus (1767-1833), Christian Gottfried (1769-1831), Gottlieb Friedrich (1771-1802) and Immanuel (1773-1833). All the sons shared Hahn's interests in mechanics and mathematics, and two of them—Christof Matthäus and Christian Gottfried also became skilful watchmakers.

In Onstmettingen Hahn constructed many solar, steeple, pocket and pendant watches. In 1769 he turned to the construction of scales and started the construction of an astronomical machine, which was admired by Herzog Carl Eugen von Württemberg, who became his patron and who used to dub Hahn as "the watchmaker God".

The new Pfarrhaus (rectory) in Kornwestheim

The new Pfarrhaus (rectory) in Kornwestheim, built for Hahn

In 1770 Duke Karl Eugen proposed a mathematics professorship at Tübingen to Hahn, but he refused it. In the same 1770 however Hahn accepted another position, arranged by the Duke, and in March moved to serve in the well-paid parish Kornwestheim, where he lived in the new rectory (see the upper photo) and arranged a large workshop, where he invited to work his brothers—David Hahn (1747-1814) and Gottfried Hahn (1749-1827). There unfortunately his wife Anna died too young, on July 10, 1775, giving birth to their seventh child. In 1776 Hahn married second time to Beate Regine Flattich (1757-1824), a daughter of the Münchinger parson Johann Friedrich Flattich (1713-1797). The new family had 8 children.

In 1781 Duke Karl Eugen again arranged a new very well-paid position for Hahn, in the parish of Echterdingen, near Stuttgart. In Echterdingen Hahn dealt mainly with pocket watches and even wrote a treatise in this regard.

A watch, made in the workshop of Hahn

A poket watch, made in the workshop of Hahn

In 1772-1774 Hahn published several theological books: "The main cause of the Apocalypse" (1772), "Clue to the understanding of the Kingdom of God" (1774) and two sermon books. The printing of books he financed from the profits, which dropped from the workshop. So does the technical work of Hahn was indirectly working for the kingdom of God:-)

In June 1779 Hahn was appointed as a member of Erfurt Academy of Sciences. This remarkable man died of pneumonia on 2nd of May, 1790, in Echterdingen.

After the death of Hahn, several calculating machines by his design were created by his apprentices—his oldest son, the clockmaker Christoph Matthäus Hahn (15 April, 1767–1 June, 1833), his brother-in-law—Johann Christoph Schuster (1759-1823), his friend Philip Gottfried Schaudt, Jacob Auch (1765-1842), and brothers Sauter from Esslingen.