(b. Troyes, France, 8 October 1787; d. Paris, France, 28 January 1847)
Gambey was a workman and then supervisor at the École des Arts et Métiers in Compiègne. He then worked for a time in Châns-sur-Marne; on the death of his father he returned to Paris, where he started a small shop in St. Denis. There he manufactured precision instruments for physicists and astronomers.
The high quality of Gambey’s instruments soon brought him to the attention of French scientific circles. In 1819 he was asked by the director of the Paris Exhibition to display some of his work there (perhaps as an attempt to regain the international prestige of French instrumentation, lost to Ramsden in England and Fraunhofer and Georg von Reichenbach in Germany). Gambey had only two months in which to prepare his work for the exposition; nevertheless, his instruments were awarded the gold medal and the Royal Society of London characterized them as being unsurpassed in Europe for elegance and precision.
Shortly thereafter Gambey built a portable the odolite for the Bureau des Longitudes. He also made the first cathetometer, for Dulong and Petit; a heliostat for Fresnel; and a vastly improved compass for Coulomb. Most important, however, he constructed a number of major instruments for the Paris observatory, of which the mural circle that he finished just before he died is his masterpiece. (A gigantic new equatorial was built from his plans after his death.)
Gambey won further gold medals at the Paris exhibitions of 1824 and 1829. He was a member of the Bureau des Longitudes and was elected to the Académie des Sciences in 1837 to replace Mollart.
At one time Gambey planned to emigrate to America, but was persuaded to stay in France by François Arago. Arago later said that whenever French scientists needed new and delicate instruments they turned to Gambey, who invariably solved the problem to their satisfaction.
Asit K. Biswas
Margaret R. Biswas