The Hollow Earth theories of John Cleves Symmes

John Cleves Symmes’ 1818 declaration that the earth is “hollow, and habitable within” was just the start of a long and fascinating episode in the annals of fringe science. But most accounts of Symmes’ work simply stop with the declaration, or perhaps note a few of the early memoirs or the novel Symmesonia, neglecting Symmes’ own decade-long development of the work. When I began to search for the texts of those initial memoirs, I was surprised to find that—just in the case of Emperor Norton’s declarations—not only was there a much more substantial literature to be explored, but there was a real richness to it, when addressed fully. Tracking down the many texts written by Symmes and his correspondents has been a challenge, and there is undoubtedly work to do, but the search has been rewarded with hundreds of pages of related material. The archive will begin with a bibliography of Symmes’ works, organized by date of composition, and will be followed by a more inclusive bibliography and the full texts of all the available texts. And many of those texts are ultimately destined for publication in Principles and Explorations of the Mundane System, a multi-volume collection from Corvus Editions.





  1. John Cleves Symmes, “No. I—Circular” (April 10, 1818)

    “I declare the earth to be hollow, and habitable within; and constituted of a number of concentric spheres, the poles of which are open twelve or sixteen degrees…”

  2. John Cleves Symmes, “Geometry—Memoir No. II” (June 17, 1818)(revised September 23, 1819)

    “With dividers describe a circle on a plate of matter of loose texture, and in the centre, add a very small circle: then draw a right line through the centre…”

  3. John Cleves Symmes, “Geology—Memoir No III” (June 24, 1818)

    “Having about a year since decided on the geometrical necessity of all planets being hollow, and consisting of separate concentric spheres involved with each other…”

  4. John Cleves Symmes, “Experiment” (n.d., October 23, 1819?)
    [A number of diagrams and notes, added to the 3rd memoir in the October 23, 1819 “Supplement.”]

  5. John Cleves Symmes, “Allegany Mountains”(July 4, 1818)

    “I declare that the chain of ridges of Alleghany mountains are the rubbish ruins of a fallen planet, which in wheeling close around our globe, first struck in Canada or New England, and, shattered by the shock, strewed its fractured fragments in trails to Alabama…”

  6. John Cleves Symmes, “Whole Number 6—Miscellany” (January 18, 1819)(revised October 13, 1819)

    “Pope advises authors to keep their works many years—I correct mine as often as I peruse them—hence cannot instantly profit by your acceptance of the offer I made of sending my new memoir for publication…”

  7. John Cleves Symmes, “Arctic Memoir” and “Note” (February 18, 1819)

    “I hoped ere this to have been supported in my new theory of the earth by many pupils, but find that most of those who have written are inclined to oppose me. I would prefer having an advocate to state my views, because in proportion to their extent, I may subject myself to the imputation of extravagance or ostentation, especially as while I write, I naturally feel elated with my discovery…”

  8. John Cleves Symmes, “The Weather” (July 8, 1819)

    “It has been dry weather, with the exception of a very few thunder showers, from the 2d day of May until the 6th inst. Yesterday, day before, and to-day have been rainy, with but little wind, and no lightning nor gusts…”

  9. John Cleves Symmes, “Ohio Staple Commodities—Provisions” (July 17, 1819)

    “As far as my observation and inquiry goes, I find it conclusive, that we generally have a rainy spell here in July, which most commonly commences between the 4th and 15th of the month. Our wheat harvest is nearly central on the 6th or 8th, (being however more early in dry seasons,) so that settled rain or frequent showers, often incommode in getting the harvest home…” [Remarks on the Weather—No. 2]

  10. John Cleves Symmes, “On Light Between the Spheres” (August 19, 1819)

    “Draw a right line N. and S., cross it with one E. and W.; extend your dividers one or two inches; set one foot at the junction of the cross, and describe a circle; close the dividers three or four tenths of an inch, and describe a second circle, concentric with the first…”

  11. John Cleves Symmes, “Remarks on the Weather—No. 3” (July 8, 1819)
  12. John Cleves Symmes, “Reply to D. P.’s Strictures” (September 15, 1819)
  13. John Cleves Symmes, [Benefits of JCS’s discoveries] (September 20, 1819)
  14. John Cleves Symmes, [Expeditions undertaken at the expense of Romanzow] (September 23, 1819)

    “Messrs. Editors.—By publishing the subjoined extract from the Boston Commercial Gazette, your readers may see that the Russians appear to have considered my proposition of polar discovery more favorably than my own countrymen have…”

  15. John Cleves Symmes, “On the fever prevailing about Springfield” (September 27, 1819)
  16. John Cleves Symmes, “Remarks on “Galileo’s” strictures on Mr. Tuffts’ wooden Globe experiment” (October 2, 1819)

    “Messrs Editors—Your paper of yesterday contains some republished strictures on Mr. Tuffts’ ‘wooden globe experiment’ in relation to the new theory, which I see has been inserted in several newspapers…”

  17. John Cleves Symmes, “Remarks on the Blowing Up of Mines” (October 11, 1819)
  18. John Cleves Symmes, “Remarks on the Aurora Borealis” (October 13, 1819)
  19. SUPPLEMENT TO THE WESTERN SPY (October 23, 1819)
  20. John Cleves Symmes, “Criticism on St. Pierre, &c.” (November 1, 1819)
  21. John Cleves Symmes, “Answers to Cleon’s Strictures” (November 8, 1819)
  22. John Cleves Symmes, “A Card for D. P.” (November 25, 1819)
    [Published in the National Intelligencer as “Cimmerian Theory.”]
  23. John Cleves Symmes, “To the Editors” (December 23, 1819)

    “I lately received the subjoined address…” [Published in the National Intelligencer, January 19, 1820.]

  24. John Cleves Symmes, “Symmes’ Theory” (January 6, 1820)

    “Galileo’s resply to Rittenhouse…” [Published in the National Intelligencer, January 26, 1820.]

  25. John Cleves Symmes, “Cursory Remarks on Symmes’s Theory” (July 7, 1820)

    “In your paper of the 24th ultimo, I yesterday read some remarks on the extraordinary coldness of the winters at the Council Bluffs, as ascertained by Lewis and Clark, many years since, and lately by Colonel Atkinson, while in command there last January…”

  26. John Cleves Symmes, “The Pamphlet” (September 21, 1820)

    “THE PAMPHLET I promised to be published, is not yet printed. It has not been delayed without reason. A point of time for its appearance will be announced, as soon as one can be safely set.”

  27. John Cleves Symmes, “On the Degrees of Latitude” (December 27, 1820)
  28. John Cleves Symmes, [queries] (March 14, 1821)
  29. John Cleves Symmes, “Polar Concavities” (April 14, 1821)

    “I yesterday saw the report of the committee relative to our forming settlements on the north-west coast, and was much transported on perceiving that there was a probability of our having territory as high as the sixtieth degree of latitude; because I think, by pushing our discoveries up the rivers in those regions, we may obtain a continuous possession quite into the concave to an indefinite extent…”

  30. John Cleves Symmes, “To the Maritime and Other Civilized Powers of the World” (April 17, 1821)

    “Having, three years since, published a circular, in which I declared the earth to be hollow, and habitable within, &c &c. and in which I offered my services to the world at large, for exploring the concave, when aided in the undertakings…”

  31. John Cleves Symmes, “To the President of the Historical Society of New York” (published April 28, 1821)
  32. John Cleves Symmes, “To the Liberal and Enlightened” (July 31, 1821)

    “It is generally admitted, that naturalists who are distinguished either for their discoveries in mechanical or scientific philosophy, are proverbially inattentive to pecuniary matters. In fact, were they not so constituted, their minds would not be at liberty to freely investigate the truth, by deep research, by abstruse studies, and by bold conceptions…”

  33. John Cleves Symmes, “To Geologists” (August 1, 1821)

    “I earnestly request and desire the geologists of the day (in whatever quarter of the world) to declare publicly for or against my new theory relative to the earth and other planets, either with or without their reasons annexed, as my best suit their convenience…”

  34. John Cleves Symmes, [From a lecture March 25, 1820] (August 14, 1821)

    “As some people, who are not much versed in my theory of the earth…” [Published in the National Intelligencer, August 29, 1821.]

  35. John Cleves Symmes, [From a lecture March 25, 1820] (August 15, 1821)

    “Since depositing in the post office the extract from my first lecture…” [Published in the National Intelligencer, October 23, 1821.]

  36. John Cleves Symmes, [From lectures in February and March, 1820] (November 7, 1821)

    “Hearne also states that the white or arctic foxes are remarkably plentiful at Hudson’s Bay…” [Published in the National Intelligencer, December 10, 1821.]

  37. John Cleves Symmes, [From lectures in February and March, 1820] (November 22, 1821)

    “The greatest river Mackenzie found when behind the polar verge…” [Published in the National Intelligencer, December 7, 1821.]

  38. John Cleves Symmes, “A General Request to Learned Institutions” (April 4, 1822)

    “I respectfully desire, that the various Philosophical and Literary Societies throughout the United States, and throughout the world, will do me the justice, or the favor, to announce to the public their dissent to my theory of the system of the earth, and the system of other planets, so far as they do, or may reject it; or, so far as they decline to approve it on a general scale…”

  39. John Cleves Symmes, “From a London Paper” (July 29, 1822)
  40. “To the Editors of the Public Journals Throughout the United States” (July 29, 1822)
  41. John Cleves Symmes, “Map of the Northern Verge” (August 20, 1822)
  42. John Cleves Symmes, “The Polar Verge” (October 30, 1822)

    “Messrs. Editors: One of your papers, of recent date, contains some account of the sufferings of Lieut. Franklin and his party, on their journey to the west, northwest, and north, from Hudson’s Bay, in 1819, 20, 21, and 22; by which account it appears that he passed through a very dreary and unproductive country, in consequence of which he suffered great hunger and privation…”

  43. John Cleves Symmes, [On the Greenland Whale Fishery] (November 6, 1822)
  44. John Cleves Symmes, “Remarks on Passing Events Applied as Corroborating Proofs of the New Theory of the Earth” (January 9, 1823)

    “European newspapers state, that the last winter was unusually cold in Iceland and unusually mild in the more southern parts of Europe: and the Greenlanders say they have their coldest winters whenever the more southern countries have their mildest one. Also, the English fisherman say, when they have a mild winter in England, they are sure to meet with an unusual quantity of ice in the Greenland sea…”

  45. John Cleves Symmes, “The First Chapter of a Series of Questions” (January 9, 1823)

    “Messrs. Editors: I ask all who doubt the correctness of my Theory of the Earth the following Questions:…”

  46. John Cleves Symmes, “Remarks on Franklin’s Arctic Expedition” (January 24, 1823)
  47. John Cleves Symmes, [On Dr. Newman’s work, including Intelligencer article] (January 31, 1823)
  48. John Cleves Symmes, “To the Editors” (April 17, 1823)

    Gentlemen. I yesterday read in your paper of the 8th inst. that Captain Parry’s ships had been spoken, off Icy Cape, by several vessels belonging to Kamtschatka. This account I venture to question upon principle…”

  49. John Cleves Symmes, [Letter from Newark, Ohio] (April 17, 1823)

    “I have journeyed here, and am too sick to travel homeward or onwards, and am without sufficient funds to pay my way much longer, and none at home to draw for. O! that some of the citizens of our metropolis would subscribe and authorize me to draw for, what would keep the discoverer of new worlds from the cramp of want and depression…”

  50. John Cleves Symmes, “To the Editors” (May 29, 1823)

    Gentlemen: The Ice-Bergs, or Ice-Islands, mentioned in your paper of the 17th instant, as having been recently seen in north lat. 42, with earth on some of them, and occupied by birds and seals, are, I conceive, fragments of the concave crust of the sphere, which have been undermined until broken off…”

  51. John Cleves Symmes, “To the Editors” (July 23, 1823)

    Gentlemen: Your paper of the 11th inst. contains an account of a Russian officer’s having journeyed from Siberia fifty days on the ice of the Northern seas, until an open sea was found. This is no more than I expected, and indeed, not so much, for I had expected land might soon be found to the Northeast (apparent) on starting from any part of the coast of Siberia…”

  52. John Cleves Symmes, “To the Editors” (August 16, 1823)

    Gentlemen: To my first number of a series of questions, dated in January last, and printed in your paper, I now add a second—the former number being yet unanswered…”

  53. John Cleves Symmes, [Third series of Queries] (August 26, 1823)

    “Gentlemen: To my second number of a series of Queries, dated on the 1st inst., I now add a third…”

  54. John Cleves Symmes “Remarks on Passing Events—A Rare Exotic” (published October 7, 1823)

    “Against the wall of a stone house, near the United States’ Arsenal, in Newport, Ky. is now growing a very beautiful and thrifty vegetable, before unknown in this region. It is pretty evidently a tropical plant; for although it stands on the south side of a wall, and was observed by Capt. Ward, who lives in the house, to be growing in May, yet it is so backward that it is somewhat doubtful whether it will have time to mature any seed before frost…”

  55. John Cleves Symmes, [Fourth series of Queries] (October 16, 1823)
    “Gentlemen: To my former three numbers of a Series of Queries relative to the Form of the Earth and other Planets, heretofore published, and not yet answered, I now add a fourth number…”
  56. John Cleves Symmes, “Summary of Positions” (December 19, 1823)

    “Messrs. Editors : I hold that, at mid-summer, the sun is 23-5 degrees above the horizon, at the 90th degree, and, consequently, then shines far into the concavity…”

  57. John Cleves Symmes, “Correspondence” (published May 29, 1824)

    “Mr. Foote:— Sir: I have, as yet, been prevented the pleasure of writing an answer to Mr. Matthews’ lecture on Concentric Spheres, by a press of more urgent calls. I have however, pondered answers for all the points the lecture embraces…” [Cincinnati Literary Gazette, p. 175.]

  58. John Cleves Symmes, “To the Editor of the National Gazette,” Daily National Intelligencer, (November 22, 1824)
  59. John Cleves Symmes, “The Inside of the World,” Daily National Intelligencer, (May 2, 1825)
  60. John Cleves Symmes, “A Dialogue Between Two Friends,” Daily National Intelligencer, (June 24, 1825)
  61. John Cleves Symmes, “A Dialogue, at Newport, in Kentucky, between a Pupil of Symmes’ School, and a Proselyle to His Theory,” Daily National Intelligencer, (August 4, 1825)
  62. John Cleves Symmes, “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer, (February 28, 1826)

    “Gentlemen: I came to this City, hoping that the Theory which I contend for, relative to the form of the earth, would be judged by the discerning public. An attentive nation awaits the result, and learned Europe may yet be the umpire. I have twice publicly presented my evidence here, and now court for the Theory a just judgment…”

  63. John Cleves Symmes, “Reply to a Card,” Daily National Intelligencer, (March 7, 1826)
  64. John Cleves Symmes, “To the Well-wishers of the Author of the New Theory of the Earth,” Daily National Intelligencer, (June 15, 1827)

    “My health not being, for several months past, equal to the task of lecturing, I sought a restoration of it at this place, eleven weeks since, and am not yet able to resume my lectures. My tour, which extended as far as Maine and Lower Canada, has advanced the theory considerable, but it has been the reverse of covering expenses….”

  65. John Cleves Symmes, “Remarks on the Use of Rain-Water,” City Gazette (Charleston, SC), (June 27, 1827)
  66. John Cleves Symmes, [source of animal heat], Daily National Intelligencer, (August 26, 1827)

    “I undertake to maintain that animal heat originates from food and is produced to active heat in the heart, and not in the lungs, as physiologists have contended.”

  67. John Cleves Symmes, “Of the Magellanic Clouds,” Daily National Intelligencer, (September 14, 1827)
  68. John Cleves Symmes, “To Such of the Public as Have Read, or May Shortly Read, the Public Queries I Have Advanced Relative to the Magellan Clouds” Daily National Intelligencer, (published October 16, 1827)

    “If the new theory of concentric spheres and open poles is a well based discovery, and I am the one who founded and developed it, as none can attempt to deny, it may seem to many, as it seems to me, unfortunate that there should be no other or better protecting organization existing in our community to provide for the wants of needy discoverers, who have to scuffle hard with adversity, and often want the common necessaries of life, than there is for them who have no particular plea…” [Daily National Intelligencer, (published October 16, 1827

  69. John Cleves Symmes, “A New Game,” The Pennsylvania Gazette, (October 20, 1827)
  70. John Cleves Symmes, “Appeal” (May 6, 1828)
    [Published in the National Intelligencer, May 20, 1828.]
  71. John Cleves Symmes, “An Imagined Dialogue,” Daily National Intelligencer, (May 15, 1828)
    [Published with the “Appeal” in some papers.]
  72. [second imagined dialogue?]
  73. John Cleves Symmes, “A Third (imagined) Dialogue, between John Cleves Symmes, and a Friend” (July 10, 1828)

    Friend.—Have you not lately learned that the circumstance of the Magellanic Clouds, existing perpetually and permanently (notwithstanding the progressing revolution of the earth) in the zenith at the Straits of Magellan, South latitude 52 deg. is attempted by some to be accounted for by imagining that they are the production of reflection from snows on the Andes?…”

  74. John Cleves Symmes, “’A Laborer’ Should be ‘Worthy of His Hire’” (Trenton, November 15, 1828)
    [Published in the National Intelligencer, November 22, 1828.]
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2038 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.