Allegheny Observatory

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The appearance of the comet known as "Donati's Comet", discovered in Florence by Giovanni Donati on June 2, 1858, gave the initial stimulus to the founding of the observatory. Interest in the comets appearance caused a group of men (professional and business) to form the Allegheny Telescope Association. This group, among whom the most prominent were Professor Louis Bradley, Josiah King and Harvey Childs, met in Bradley's home on February 15, 1858, and resolved not only to found the A.T.A. but also to purchase a telescope. On January 31, 1860, the A.T.A. ordered a 13-inch telescope from Henry Fitz of New York, and it was installed in 1861. On May 15, 1860, the A.T.A. officially adopted a constitution and by-laws, elected a board of directors, and appointed an Observatory Committee. This committee raised funds by subscription for the telescope and housed it in a new building which they called the "Allegheny Observatory" as it was centered on a hill on Perrysville Avenue in the old city of Allegheny. Professor Bradley was custodian of the new telescope from 1861-1863. In 1865, Professor Philotus Dean, principal of Central High School in Pittsburgh, became first custodian of the Observatory. Both men served without pay, accepting the responsibility of the Observatory to promote the advance of science. Later in 1865, the A.T.A. deeded the telescope, the building and the land to the Western University of Pennsylvania (now University of Pittsburgh). In 1867, the official transfer was completed and Samuel Langley was appointed Director. Among many other accomplishments, Langley invented a device to measure the temperatures on the Sun's surface, known as a bolometer; "Standardized" time for railroad companies; and coined the terms "astrophysics" and "aerodynamics" . When Langley left to become Secretary of the Smithsonian in 1887, James Keeler became the acting director and used the 13" Fitz-Clark telescope to discover Saturn's rings were made of small particles instead of being one large disk. In the early 1890s, because of the increasing air pollution in Pittsburgh and the need for larger research facilities, a new building at a new site was designed. The new Allegheny observatory was built between 1900 and 1914 in Riverview Park. The old observatory was sold and at one point a hospital for an orphanage. The building was torn down in 1955. The Fitz-Clark 13" is still used today. In 1974 a bequest in the memory of George Theiss was made to the Observatory allowing for renovations on the Thaw and Keeler Telescopes. The George W. Theiss Astronomical Laboratory was also established and houses machines used to measure stellar images obtained from telescopes. The Thaw lens was replaced in 1985.

From the description of Allegheny Observatory records, 1850-1967. (University of Pittsburgh). WorldCat record id: 30052829

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Langley, Samuel P. Samuel P. Langley Papers, 1867-1906. Smithsonian Institution Archives
referencedIn Smithsonian Archives. William Jones Rhees Collection.
referencedIn Todd, David P. (David Peck), 1855-1939. Papers, 1862-1939 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Todd, David P. (David Peck), 1855-1939. David Peck Todd papers, 1862-1939 (inclusive). Yale University Library
creatorOf Allegheny Observatory. Records, 1850-1970. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Schlesinger, Frank, 1871-1943. Allegheny Observatory correspondence [microform], 1905-1920. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Allegheny Observatory. Photographic negatives, ca. 1886-ca. 1929. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Brashear, John A. (John Alfred), 1840-1920. Letter [187-?] [Pittsburgh?] to S.P. Langley [Pittsburgh?]. University of Michigan
referencedIn Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. Correspondence, 1865-1891 Smithsonian Institution Archives
referencedIn Thaw, William, 1818-1889. Letter [187]4 or [188]4 May 2 [Pittsburgh] to Dr. George Woods, West University, Pa. University of Michigan
referencedIn Todd, David P. (David Peck), 1855-1939. David Peck Todd papers, 1862-1939 (inclusive). Yale University Library
creatorOf Allegheny Observatory. Allegheny Observatory records, 1850-1967. University of Pittsburgh
referencedIn University Of Pittsburgh, Archives Of Industrial Society. Records Of The Allegheny Observatory.
referencedIn Meggers, William F. (William Frederick), 1888-1966. Addition to papers, 1870-1973 (bulk: 1906-1966). American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. Correspondence, 1863-1879 Smithsonian Institution Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Astronomical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Astronomical Society of Pittsburgh. corporateBody
correspondedWith Brashear, John A. 1840-1920 person
correspondedWith Henry, Joseph, 1797-1878 person
correspondedWith Jordan, Frank Craig, 1865-1941 person
correspondedWith Keeler, James Edward, 1857-1900 person
associatedWith Langley, Samuel P. person
correspondedWith Langley, S. P. 1834-1906 person
associatedWith Meggers, William F. (William Frederick), 1888-1966. person
correspondedWith Schlesinger, Frank, 1871-1943 person
correspondedWith Smithsonian Institution corporateBody
associatedWith Thaw, William, 1818-1889. person
associatedWith Todd, David P. (David Peck), 1855-1939. person
associatedWith University of Pittsburgh. corporateBody
associatedWith Western University of Pennsylvania. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
West (U.S.)
Astronomical instruments
Astronomical observatories
Telescopes (Astronomy)
Smithsonian Exchange

Corporate Body

Active 1850

Active 1970



Ark ID: w6hx78wd

SNAC ID: 57374770