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Harvard College Observatory History in Images

This is a personal project collecting and documenting early images of Harvard College Observatory, focusing on the site at Observatory Hill (previously Summer House Hill). Buildings, instruments, people, and observations.

Disclaimer: all content here is solely my own views, and in no way represents the views of my employer, or anyone else. Also, I'm documenting things as I learn about them, so expect frequent errors. Corrections will occur without notice and without a changelog at this point.


This page shows a list of all images tagged with "directors".

[link]1849 William Cranch Bond portrait

Image Credit: Cephas Thompson

Earliest source: "William Cranch Bond." Time and Navigation / The untold story of getting from here to there.. Smithsonian Institution, 19 [retrieved] August 2015.sibond

This is the earliest depiction I have of William Cranch Bond. Bond was a famous clockmaker, by virtue of being the son of a famous clockmaker. He was also keenly interested in astronomy from an early age. As a child, he used a telescope to observe a solar eclipse, apparently without supervision, and damaged his eyesight for a number of years.bondmemorials. His fascination with astronomy was such that in 1815, John Farrar, then the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, asked him to visit observatories in Europe and report back. Apparently Bond's descriptions sounded too expensive, and no Observatory was built at tha time.heavensalarm

Evenutally though, the Observatory was created, and Harvard "hired" him as the first director of their new Observatory. Hiring did not involve any salary, but it did involve him transferring all of his own personal astronomical equipment to Harvard property. Not a bad deal for Harvard.

One related image not shown

[link]1855ish William Cranch Bond photograph

Earliest source: William Cranch Bond and George PHillips Bond [and Joseph Winlock]. Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College / 1859-1860 vol. 7. Welch, Bigelow, & Co., 1872.annals7

A photo of William Cranch Bond. Bond died in 1859, while negative photography was still relatively new, but a negative of him must have existed in order to print this image, which is taken from the 1872 Annals.annals7 I'm unsure of the printing technology used here. At first I assumed it was a photolithograph, however no halftone screen is visible (although it could be a gravure method). This could also be a photo pasted into each copy, probably an albumen print, although I don't see all the edges if it's pasted - which could be a scan quality issue.

This is only the second image of him I'm aware of, the first being the painting above. All other images I've seeen are versions of one of these two original sources. The 1855 date given here is a fairly wild guess of when the photograph that it was based on was taken.

It's a fairly early example of a printed photograph, but not crazy early. Photographs in print didn't really become common until 1880s or especially 1890s, but photographs had been in print experimentally since about 1835, and to a limited degree in professional publishing since the early 1850s.

Crazy hair, right? I think some of the images derived from this original take a little artistic license, and make it even a bit more wild. I haven't had time to research his hair, but it's definitely an avenue of exploration. Was this fashionable? Unfashionable? Mad-scientist? Did people mention his hair in the published memorials of him? So many important questions remain.

2 related images not shown

[link]1860 George Phillips Bond

Oh the irony.

The second director of the Observatory, taking over after his father's death in 1859, George Phillips Bond will serve as director for only six years, until his own death. He is considered the father of astrophotography, dedicating his short career to progress in this area. He and his father assisted John Whipple in his famous photographs of the moon, and it was George who brought them to Europe, where they were instantly famous. The heavily photographic programs of future directors Winlock and Pickering (with all the women computers doing the grunt work) will be built on foundations created by George Phillips Bond.

And despite all this, there are no known photographs of him at all, nor any portraits of any kind.

All we have is descriptions. His daughter Elizabeth offers hers:

"In person he was rather tall (a little under six feet) and slender, becoming, of later yearsm painfully thin. His hair was wavy and very dark, if not black; his complexion pale, and his eyes of the deepest blue, with a glowing spiritual light in them that transfigured the worn face, lending it a singular power and beauty quite apart from mere regularity of feature."bondmemorials

He was not the son destined to follow in his father's footsteps. His younger brother, William Cranch Bond Jr. was an avid astronmer and seen by some as the bright hope for the future of the Observatory. But he died at the end of his college career. Older brother George assumed the mantle of astronomy "with some reluctance" as a friend describes. George's first and greatest love was ornithology.bondmemorials

As if having no portraits isn't enough of a slight, it's also hard to find him now. Some online sources say he is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery as is his father. But he's not in the Mount Auburn Database. So I had a look for myself. The family Bond monument has many names carved in it. George's name and other details are carved into the back, behind the bushes. But it turns out that many family names have been added to W. C. Bond's monument, though they are interred elsewhere. After contacting Mount Auburn Cemetery, they were able to tell me that George is interred in Cambridge Cemetery, lot 305.

[link]1875 Joseph Winlock Photograph

Earliest source: F. O. Vaille and H. A. Clark (Class of 1874). The Harvard Book / A Series of Historical, Biographical, and Descriptive Sketches vol. 1. Welch, Bigelow, and Company, 1875.harvardbook

Joseph Winlock was the third director of the Harvard Observatory, taking over after George Phillips Bond passed away in 1865. Winlock would only serve a decade until his own death, around the time this book was published.

Winlock was the grandson of a revolutionary war soldier, General Joseph Winlock (starting as a private; Captain by the end of the war). Raised on a farm in Kentucky, he graduated from Shelby College, where he was given an appointment as professor of Mathematics and Astronomy. He moved from there to working as a computer in Cambridge for the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac. After several more job changes and advancements, he wound up at the Observtory, where he took over as director.academywinlock

Under Winlock, the Observatory sold accurate time data to various customers, in part based on improvements to the instruments made by Winlock. In appreciation for this, Harvard provided his family with a stipend of the proceeds from this service for five years. Perhaps it was not enough, or perhaps she just wanted to follow in her father's footsteps, because his daughter Anna felt the need to ask the Observatory for a job as a computer, and thus became the first woman hired for this work at the Observatory (as far as anyone knows), eventually joined by her sister Louisa.

I don't know when the photograph was taken, but given that all the photographs in the book seem to be in the same style, I think it's ok to assume they were all taken in preparation for this book, which was begun by the class of 1874 in their final year.harvardbook


Earliest source: "[Observatory computer room and staff], 1891." Harvard University Archives / HUV 1210 (9-4). Harvard Libraries, olvwork289689

Nearly the identical photo as the previous, but with Pickering added standing on the left. Obviously taken the same day.

Note that the women did not work this closely. As can be seen in the above photos with Mrs. Draper, the room is larger and they are crowded together for sake of the photograph. There were between three and five rooms total for the computing work, and by my best guess about 15 women worked there at that time, as well as at least five men. Still cramped, but not this cramped.

The following year, a brick building was constructed to help out with the space issues.

[link]1929/12/31 Observatory Pinafore Cast and Crew

The Cast and Crew of the Observatory Pinafore

A set of six photos of the Observatory Pinfore has recently turned up. They've been scanned by their owner, Charles Reynes, who's the great grandson of Edward Skinner King (who was almost certainly at the performance - he's in the group photo for the AAS conference where the play was staged). They are by far the best quality images I've found anywhere of the performance, and three of them haven't been found anywhere else.

I'm having a particular problem with two identifications from these photographs: G. W. Wheelwright as Winslow Upton and W. R. Ransom as Pickering. I'm hoping to identify the characters from the context of the photos, but at this point I'm not sure that will work. From the opposite end, I've attempted to find photographs of both Wheelwright and Ransom in other contexts. Neither seems to look at all like the character in the photos with the more recessed chin.


Bart J. Bok, unknown women, unknown man, [Wheelwright or Ransom], unknown woman, Harlow Shapley, [Ransom or Wheelwright], Arville Walker, Peter M. Millman, Arthur R. Sayer, Leon Campbell

unknown boy, Mildred Shapley, Adelaide Ames, Cecilia Payne (Gaposchkin), Henrietta Swope, Sylvia Mussels (Lindsay), Helen Sawyer (Hogg), unknown boy

Use/Copyright: Copyright held by Charles Reynes, used here with permission

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