Dividends and Longitude

One of the great mysteries of the world of shipping is how do you tell where you are when you are at sea? If you can not see land, do you know where you are? Until the l770’s it was almost impossible to pinpoint where you were, except for north or south of the equator. It was relatively easy to tell latitude by the position of the sun; however the longitude was unknown. Because it was unknown, there were many shipwrecks and ships running a ground or not knowing land was nearby for fresh water and provisions. People died because on the ship, no one knew where they were. There were clues – how to measure your speed, but it did not tell you where in the sea you were.

There were many people who tried, but the one who eventually succeeded was a Englishman named John Harrison. There is a terrific movie called Longitude starring Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon which is worth watching on You Tube. In the 1700’s and many even today, what your education and schooling was, helped dictate your lot in life. John Harrison worked cutting trees and as a clock maker, he did not graduate from any university. When the English government announced a prize, the Board of Longitude expected to give it to one of their own. John Harrison who was driven to produce the most accurate clocks on land and sea, eventually took 50 years to develop a clock a little larger than a pocket watch and thanks to the influence of the King was awarded the prize. In the city of Greenwich, England if you ever have the chance to see Mr. Harrison’s progression of clocks you will be in for a treat.

Linking to dividend paying stocks, the story of John Harrison is that anyone can be an inventor, but it takes something else to make money from the inventions. Mr. Harrison won the prize (in today’s money a couple of million dollars) but he did not produce the clocks which all shipping uses. Mr. Harrison was a clock maker, not a graduate of the university which made winning the prize very difficult for the Board of Longitude to give or they will be many roadblocks to capitalizing on inventions. However, many profitable companies can buy inventions and continue to be innovative in the the market. Ideas are a powerful thing, but selling them to users is where the money is made. Concentrate on the later and your investments will do better.

There are more questions than answers, till the next time – to raising questions.

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