An orrery is a mechanical device that illustrates the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons in the Solar System in a heliocentric model. Though the Greeks had working planetaria, the first orrery that was a planetarium of the modern era was produced in 1704, and one was presented to the Earl of Orrery — whence the name came. They are typically driven by a clockwork mechanism with a globe representing the Sun at the centre, and with a planet at the end of each of the arms.
John Fulton (1803-1853) was a shoemaker from Fenwick, Ayrshire. A typical technical innovator his imagination and skill drove forward the Industrial Revolution. Self-taught, he studied botany, learned several foreign languages and constructed a ‘velocipede’ or early bicycle. He also experimented with the production of coal gas. Astronomy held a particular fascination for him.
Fulton built three orreries.the last of which took four years to finish, When it was completed he displayed it in Kilmarnock and then, in October 1833, brought it to Glasgow. It went on show in the saloon of the Argyll Arcade for a shilling admission fee and was a great success with the public. Fulton then took the orrery on a tour of the United Kingdom. The creation of the orrery won him a medal awarded by the Scottish Society of Arts along with a prize of ten sovereigns.
His technical skills brought him employment in London where he worked for a firm which produced scientific instruments for the King, William IV. Ill health forced him to abandon his professional activities and return to Fenwick where he died in 1853.
In 1869 a group of Glasgow businessmen led by William Walker bought the orrery for the city. It was toured around Glasgow schools and museums until the 1930s when it found a more permanent home in the Old Glasgow Museum. Now in the kelvingrove museum in Glasgow.