Allegheny Observatory Records

What’s online?

The Allegheny Observatory online collection contains images from 1895 through 1935 showing many of the instruments used at the observatory, members of the Allegheny Telescope Association, and influential contributors to the field of astronomy, such as John A. Brashear, a telescope lens maker. Exterior and interior views of the original and second Allegheny Observatory are also included.

Images were selected that depict the construction of the Observatory, and its equipment, experiments, inventors and directors who made the observatory a leader in its field.

What’s in the entire collection?

The collection, held by the Archives Service Center (ASC) at the University of Pittsburgh, comprises over 300 photographic prints and negatives taken between 1850 and 1967. It also contains correspondence and letterpress books belonging to eight of the observatory's directors, including directors' miscellany, notes, articles, correspondence, administrative files, notebooks, drawings, mechanical drawings, photographic prints and negatives, news releases, news clippings, a scrapbook, and both historical documents and articles. The collection contains additional photographs taken by Frank C. Jordan, director from 1939 through 1941, of family, friends, domestic scenes, and images of observatories in the United States.

About the Allegheny Observatory

The appearance of the comet known as Donati's Comet, discovered in Florence by Giovanni Donati on June 2, 1858, provided the initial stimulus for founding the Allegheny Observatory. Interest aroused by the comet's appearance resulted in the formation of 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 to purchase a telescope.

On January 31, 1860, the Allegheny Telescope Association ordered a thirteen-inch telescope from Henry Fitz of New York. It was installed in 1861. On May 15, 1860, the Association 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 they called the Allegheny Observatory, as it was located on a hill on Perrysville Avenue in the old city of Allegheny.

Professor Bradley was custodian of the new telescope from 1861 through 1863. In 1865, Professor Philotus Dean, principal of Central High School in Pittsburgh, became the first custodian of the Observatory. Both men served without pay, accepting the responsibility of the position to promote the advance of science. Later, in 1865, the Association 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.

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