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Who made the first compass?

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Quick Answer

The compass is an ancient Chinese invention. It was probably first made in the third century B.C., though the original inventor is unknown. The first compasses used lodestones, naturally magnetized pieces of iron ore. When freely suspended, a lodestone turns until it is aligned with the Earth's magnetic poles.

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Full Answer

Early compasses were used by the Chinese for seeking out gemstones and for divination by fortune tellers. It wasn't until the 11th century that the compass began to be used as a navigational tool. The compass revolutionized ocean exploration by freeing sailors from their reliance on landmarks and astronomical sightings for determining direction. The importance of the compass in navigation is indicated by the word lodestone, which means "guiding stone."

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