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Category Archives: CfA History

George Ellery Hale, Mount Wilson, and the Griffith Observatory

*With this blog series, we also hope to instigate meaningful conversations about our institution’s history. We therefore invite you to comment on our posts and share your thoughts with us. George Ellery Hale was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 29, 1868. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, his…

Amateur Telescope-Making: Popular Astronomy and the Great Depression

*With this blog series, we also hope to instigate meaningful conversations about our institution’s history. We therefore invite you to comment on our posts and share your thoughts with us. The highly publicized return of Halley’s Comet in 1910 remains one of the most high-profile events of modern astronomy. Stories…

1920: Harvard Astronomy in the Aftermath of WW1

*With this blog series, we also hope to instigate meaningful conversations about our institution’s history. We therefore invite you to comment on our posts and share your thoughts with us. Jazz Age America, also known as the “Roaring Twenties” or the “Golden Age Twenties” in Europe, was born from the…

Summer Blog Series: An Updated Mission Statement

The prevailing theme behind the Library’s summer blog series has been to share snapshots in the history of the H.C.O. and S.A.O. where significant national or international events intersected with astrophysical scholarship. Due to the widespread closure of libraries and archives relating to Covid-19, much of our research for this…

“All Closed and Lenses Covered”: The Boyden Station in Arequipa

***In Fall 2019, the Wolbach Library displayed a small exhibit on the history of the Boyden Station entitled, “A Peculiar Sense of Proprietorship,” which directly addressed the imperialist actions of Harvard astronomers in Peru. The accompanying blog is still available here: https://wolba.ch/gazette/arequipa/. The blog and exhibit were adapted from Alex…

Astronomers in a Chemists’ War

In August 1914, as the ‘Great War’ began, a pair of French scientists started working on a machine to detect enemy artillery fire using recorded sound. Charles Nordmann, the leader of the two and a career astronomer, was best known for his failed attempts at the turn of the century…

Sir Arthur Eddington and The World War One Eclipses

Just weeks after the start of World War One, German astronomer Erwin Finlay-Freundlich led an expedition into Russian-controlled Crimea to photograph the total solar eclipse on August 21, 1914. An American expedition, led by William Wallace Campbell from the Lick Observatory, arrived in Kiev with similar intentions. Earlier that spring,…

The “First and Second Civil War Comets”

Horace Parnell Tuttle’s career in astronomy began when failing eyesight forced his older brother, Charles Wesley Tuttle, to abandon his own fledging astronomical career. Charles redirected his academic pursuits, enrolling in Harvard Law School, and Horace replaced his older brother at the Harvard College Observatory. Educated in the early days…

Thaddeus Lowe and The U.S. Army Ballooning Corps

On April 20, 1861, Thaddeus Lowe left Cincinnati, OH, with plans to travel to Washington D.C. in the basket of a balloon he’d named the “Enterprise.” It was a test flight (and a calculated publicity stunt) towards what he hoped might eventually become an aerial journey across the Atlantic. Wearing…

Major Philip Sydney Coolidge (1830 – 1863)

On September 19, 1863, Major Philip Sidney Coolidge died leading the 16th U.S. Infantry into battle at Chickamauga, presumably. A great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson on his mother’s side, and a man who by all accounts lived “a strangely roving adventurous life,” Boston newspapers disagreed over his fate into the early…