Benjamin Pike was born in London in March 1777. Little biographical or educational information exists regarding his early years. At the age of 21, Mr. Pike moved to New York City, and within a few years established himself as an optician and manufacturer of mathematical and philosophical instruments (a term coined in the eighteenth century for scientific instruments uses primarily for academic or instructional purposes). His youthful enthusiasm and technical precision impressed colleagues and customers alike. Mr. Pike married Sarah and they became the parents of three sons - Benjamin Jr. (1809- May 7, 1864), Daniel, (August 16, 1815-April 16, 1893), and Gardiner (1825-April 13, 1893). His sons also became successful opticians in their own right.
At the age of 22, Benjamin Pike, Jr., became a partner in his father's business originally located at 166 Broadway and renamed Benjamin Pike & Son. A decade later, Daniel joined his father and brother, necessitating a slight name change to Benjamin Pike & Sons. However, the name reverted to 'Benjamin Pike & Son' when the ambitious Benjamin opened his own optical equipment business at 294 Broadway. The junior Pike married Frances Matilda Hope, and together they had three daughters - Catherine, Mary, and Harriet. In 1848, Benjamin Jr. published Pike's Illustrated Descriptive Catalogue of Optical, Mathematical, and Philosophical Instruments, an encyclopedic volume of more than 700 pages and 750 illustrations that is regarded as the most comprehensive collection of American scientific instruments and European imports of the mid-nineteenth century. Far more than a mere product/price listing, Mr. Pike Jr.'s catalogue provides detailed descriptions as well as helpful usage instructions for each item. Of particular interest to amateur and professional photographers were such products as the classic daguerreotype camera, a portable camera obscura (recommended for young photographers), a camera lucida for the draughtsman, a graphic mirror and polemoscope for perspective and reflection, a vast inventory of magic lanterns, and a lucernal microscope that could project transparent objects onto a screen or white wall (and, as the text points out, is in many ways superior to the solar microscope because of its simpler construction, ease of portability, and could also be used at night.
By 1850, youngest son Gardiner joined the family business, which again began trading as Benjamin Pike & Sons and located at 518 Broadway. The Pike firms were the leading optical business retailers in New York City, boasting a clientele that extended across the Atlantic. Benjamin Pike, Jr. won a silver medal in the category of "best set of surveyors' instruments" at an exhibition held by the New York State Agricultural Society in 1854. Four years' later, the prosperous Benjamin Jr. built a lavish estate for his family that later became known as the Steinway Mansion. Benjamin Pike, Sr. spent his last years in comfortable retirement at his New York farm. He died on May 2, 1863 at the age of 86. Sadly, Benjamin Pike Jr. joined his father a year later on May 7, 1864. By 1867, the company name was changed for the final time, to Benjamin Pike's Son, operated by Daniel Pike and his partner Joseph Robinson. Nephew Arthur M. Pike (c. 1853-1893) joined the firm, which by 1878 was located at 930 Broadway. It became a two-man family operation once more when Mr. Robinson retired in 1882. In later years, the business focused primarily upon innovative microscopes and accessories before closing its doors in 1916. Benjamin Pike & Sons are buried in a family plot at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery.
2014 Benj. Pike's Son & Co., 930 Broadway, NY (URL: http://www.antique-microscopes.com/photos/Pikes_Son_microscope.htm).
1882 Engineering and Mining Journal, Vol. XXXIII (New York: Scientific Publishing Company), p. 329.
2014 Jeremy Norman's HistoryofScience.com (URL: http://www.historyofscience.com/norman-publishing/instruments/pike.php).
2014 Long Island Footprints (URL: http://lmetzger.tumblr.com/post/76485039374/the-steinway-mansion).
1962 The Makers of Surveying Instruments in America Since 1700 by Charles E. Smart (Troy, NY: Regal Art Press), pp. 120-123.
1857 Norton's Literary Letter (New York: Charles B. Norton), p. 48.
2014 Pike Maker, 518 Broadway New York, No. 120 (URL: http://www.antique-microscopes.com/photos/Pike_microscope_120.htm).
1848 Pike's Illustrated Descriptive Catalogue of Optical, Mathematical, and Philosophical Instruments, Vol. II (New York: Benjamin Pike, Jr.), p. 2.
1863 Scientific American, Vol. VIII (New York: Munn & Co.), p. 346.
2014 Smithsonian National Museum of American History (URL: http://amhistory.si.edu/surveying/maker.cfm?makerid=22).
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