Thomas Jefferson was fascinated by astronomy and owned several astronomical instruments during his lifetime, including an orrery—that is, a mechanical model of the solar system. Orreries were a popular, entertaining, and instructive way to share what was known at the time about the natural world and universe. According to one letter, Jefferson may have even displayed his orrery, ordered from London in 1792, in the President’s House in Washington, D.C.

Monticello guide Charles Morrill demonstrates the orrery he built for our hands-on Mountaintop Activity Center.