The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Lamont-Hussey Observatory

The Lamont-Hussey Observatory may be said to have had its beginning as early as November, 1902. At this time, Hussey in conjunction with Aitken was carrying on an extensive double-star program at the Lick Observatory at Mt. Hamilton, California, and during a visit from Robert Patterson Lamont they had their first conversation concerning the desirability of sending a large telescope to the Southern Hemisphere for the measurement of southern double stars and for the extension of the double-star survey to the south celestial pole.

In October, 1905, Hussey came to the University of Michigan as Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory. In April, 1908, on meeting with Lamont in Chicago, he spoke again of his desire to proceed with the preparation of plans for a 24-inch refracting telescope for the Southern Hemisphere, and Lamont contributed $1,000 with which to begin drawings.

In April, 1909, Hussey visited the United States Naval Observatory to inspect its 26-inch refractor and to collect data for the design of the 24-inch refractor. In February, 1910, Lamont authorized placing the order for the glass, and in March, 1910, under Hussey's direction, plans and drawings for the mounting were begun by Samuel Pierpont Langley.

From June, 1911, to September, 1916, Hussey was Director of the La Plata Observatory in Argentina, as well as Director of the University of Michigan Observatory, agreeing to this co-operative arrangement with the idea that it would offer an opportunity to select a site with favorable observing conditions for the proposed refractor. That plan was never realized, however, and Hussey terminated his directorship of the La Plata Observatory in 1916.

During his South American sojourn, however, plans went forward for the southern refractor. In 1910 a contract for a 24-inch objective was given to the Alvan Clark and Sons Corporation. Then followed much delay and disappointment in obtaining glass suitable for such an objective. Not until August, 1922, did Hussey hear of a pair of disks from which could be ground a 27-inch objective. Lamont authorized the purchase of the disks, which arrived at McDowell and Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in April, 1923. The grinding of the objective was under the direct supervision of the chief optician, J. B. McDowell, and after his death the work was completed by Hageman. The objective arrived in Ann Arbor on January 27, 1925. The mounting for the refractor had been made at the Observatory Shop in Ann Arbor under the direction of the chief instrument maker, Henry J. Colliau.

During the summer of 1925 the 27-inch telescope was fully assembled and temporarily mounted on the Observatory grounds at Ann Arbor for the final testing, which proved the objective to be of excellent quality and the mechanical parts satisfactory; subsequent performance in South Africa amply bore out this designation.

In September, 1923, in conference Page  1668with Lamont, Hussey decided upon South Africa rather than Australia as the site, and in October, 1923, he left Ann Arbor for South Africa, where he tested various sites. As a result Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, was selected.

In September, 1926, the refractor was shipped to Bloemfontein. Professor and Mrs. Hussey, accompanied by Richard A. Rossiter and family, followed on October 9. Professor Hussey's unexpected death in London on October 28, 1926, brought a tragic ending to his hopes, but it was decided that the project should go forward under the immediate supervision of Rossiter, who arrived in Bloemfontein on November 28, 1926.

The exact location of the building on Naval Hill, a site within the city limits of Bloemfontein and about two miles north and three hundred feet above the business section, was decided upon by Rossiter, and the plans for it were made by W. S. Lunn, engineer, of Bloemfontein. The construction was let to W. H. Birtand Sons, a local firm there, and another Bloemfontein company, Gillespie and Son, erected the dome. A bid of about $21,800 was accepted for the construction. Two gifts from Lamont, one of $25,000 for the dome, and the other of $27,000 for the construction of the building, were formally accepted by the Regents. Gifts from the city of Bloemfontein amounted to between $5,000 and $6,000. The steel dome, 56 feet in diameter and weighing fifty-eight tons when crated for shipment, and an observing chair of light steel, 27 feet high, were constructed by the J. W. Fecker Company of Pittsburgh and shipped in 1927. Many favors were extended by the municipality of Bloemfontein, including a free site, road construction, water and power at cost, and a residence for Rossiter at a rent of a dollar a year.

The building, of pressed red brick, consisted of a telescope room and a north and a south wing. The central part was covered by the large dome for the refractor. The south wing contained the library, three offices, a restroom, a storeroom, and a darkroom. The north wing provided quarters for the caretaker and for garage and storage purposes. The building was completed in February, 1928, and the telescope was erected for the beginning of the regular observing program in May, 1928.

The Observatory was officially named "The Lamont-Hussey Observatory," a fitting tribute to Hussey's lifelong ambition and Lamont's benefaction. It was formally dedicated on April 28, 1928, with guests officially representing the Orange Free State, the city of Bloemfontein, and the Boyden Station of Harvard University.

The financial support of the Lamont-Hussey Observatory from its beginning until June, 1933, came chiefly from Lamont. The records indicate that during the period from June, 1908, to November, 1927, Lamont contributed towards this project a total of $132,959.62 (R.P., 1926-29, p. 445). Subsequent gifts have undoubtedly increased his contributions to approximately $150,000. Every assistance has been given by the government of the Union of South Africa and that of the Orange Free State as well as by the municipality of Bloemfontein. From 1933 to April, 1937, the University of Michigan assumed the full financial responsibility. Then came the arrangement with the government of the Union of South Africa for the operating expenses for the five-year period, April, 1937, to March, 1942, amounting to about $25,000: 80 per cent to be furnished by the Union of South Africa, and 20 per cent by the municipality of Bloemfontein, without changing in any respect the status of the Observatory Page  1669and the rights of the University of Michigan. The University retained full ownership of the building, of its equipment, of the observing program, and of results secured. Never was there an agreement drawn up that demonstrated a greater liberality or a more genuine scientific spirit and attitude. Since that period, the support has been carried jointly by the University of Michigan and the municipality of Bloemfontein.

An important adjunct to the Lamont-Hussey Observatory for a period of approximately three years was the use of a 10 ½-inch objective prism camera, under co-operative arrangement with the Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories. This telescope, owned by Mt. Wilson and sent to the southern station in December, 1948, was used in the Michigan-Mt. Wilson southern H-alpha survey for a period of three years, ending in August, 1951. The plans for the additional building necessary to house this instrument were drawn up by Karl G. Henize, with the contract let to a local builder, H. A. Poole. It was erected about sixty feet to the southeast of the main building, and was constructed of brick covered with plaster. The cost of this temporary structure was about $3,000. The program was financed in its entirety by a grant to the University Observatory from the Rackham Fund.

Although the Observatory was officially closed in December, 1953, the big refractor has been in use during the summer of 1954 for the study of the planet Mars at its close approach, by astronomers from the Lowell Observatory at Flagstaff, Arizona.