Newton's Apple Tree in Lincolnshire

Nov 6, 2017 0 comments

The story of Sir Isaac Newton and the falling apple is one of the most famous anecdotes in science. The young Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree in his garden when a fruit fell on his head, and in a sudden stroke of brilliant insight, he came up with the theory of gravity. The story is most likely embellished—at least the part where the apple hits Newton’s head—but there is also some truth to it.

The first written account of the apple falling incident appears on the notes of John Conduitt, who was Newton’s assistant at the Royal Mint and husband to Newton's niece. In 1726, the year of Newton's death, John Conduitt described the event:

In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge to his mother in Lincolnshire. Whilst he was pensively meandering in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from a tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from earth, but that this power must extend much further than was usually thought. Why not as high as the Moon said he to himself & if so, that must influence her motion & perhaps retain her in her orbit, whereupon he fell a calculating what would be the effect of that supposition.


The tree from which the famous apple is said to have fallen, in the grounds of Woolsthorpe Manor in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, in Lincolnshire, England. Photo credit: Dun.can/Flickr

Newton appears to have himself perpetuated the apple tree story when he spoke about his discovery to several acquaintances. In another memoir on Newton’s life, published in 1752, writer William Stukeley wrote about a conversation he had with Newton:

We went into the garden, and drank thea under the shade of some apple trees, only he, and myself. Amidst other discourse, he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. "Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground," thought he to himself: occasion'd by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a contemplative mood.

"Why should it not go sideways, or upwards? But constantly to the earths centre? Assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. There must be a drawing power in matter. And the sum of the drawing power in the matter of the earth must be in the earths center, not in any side of the earth. Therefore does this apple fall perpendicularly, or toward the center? If matter thus draws matter; it must be in proportion of its quantity. Therefore the apple draws the earth, as well as the earth draws the apple."

The year when this incident is said to have occurred, Newton was staying at Woolsthorpe Manor near Grantham in Lincolnshire. Woolsthorpe Manor is the birthplace and was the family home of Sir Isaac Newton. Newton returned here in 1666 when Cambridge University closed due to the plague, and here he performed many of his most famous experiments, most notably his work on light and optics.

Although Newton did not specify exactly where he observed the apple fall, there was one apple tree growing in the Manor’s garden and naturally, it was assumed that this was the famed tree.

The tree has been taken care of since the 1750’s by generations of the Woolerton family. In 1816, a storm blew the tree down, but major portion of the tree was left and it re-rooted. The tree still remains and is taken care of by the National Trust.

Grafts from Newton’s apple tree has been distributed and cultivated across the United Kingdom and beyond. There is one specimen—a descendent of the original tree—growing in the garden in the Physics Department in the University of York. Another grows outside the main gate of Trinity College, Cambridge, below the room Newton lived in when he studied there. You can also find one growing at the Bariloche Institute, in Bariloche, Argentina.


Woolsthorpe Manor. Photo credit: Mike Fay/Flickr


A descendant of Newton's apple tree at Trinity College, Cambridge. Photo credit: Sam Rae/Flickr


A plaque under a descendant of Newton's apple tree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA. Photo credit: Mathieu Thouvenin/Flickr


A descendant of Newton's apple tree at Goobang, New South Wales, Australia. Photo credit: Corrie Barklimore/Flickr


Photo credit: Andrew Fogg/Flickr


A descendant of Newton’s apple tree in Teddington, London, England. Photo credit: John Blower/Flickr

Sources: / / Wikipedia


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