The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


THE Regents' report to the superintendent of public instruction in 1849 incorporated a statement by the Board of Visitors regarding the lack of "philosophical apparatus." The importance placed on meteorology is evident from the following excerpt:

… Not an instrument, even, for Meteorological purposes, is to be found in their [the Regents'] inventory, notwithstanding the subject is becoming every year one of increasing interest to the scholar and poetical [practical?] man, and awakens the attention of our national and other Legislatures.

(R.S.P.I., 1849, p. 45.)

Lectures on meteorology and climate were announced in the Catalogue for 1852-53 under the heading, Chemistry, as follows: "During the Third Term a special course will be given to the Agricultural Class — also Lectures upon the subjects of Meteorology and Climate." An unfilled professorship of theoretical and practical agriculture was also listed. In 1853-54, under Agricultural Course, the following course was announced: "Lectures on Chemistry, Chemistry applied to the Arts, Meteorology and Climate." These were evidently given by the Reverend Charles Fox (A.B. and A.M. Oxford), Lecturer on Theoretical and Practical Agriculture, who was appointed Professor for 1854-55. His death, which was recorded in the Catalogue of 1854-55, occurred in July, 1854, and caused a suspension of the lectures which was then considered only temporary. The prospect of finding an immediate successor was apparently given up in 1861-62, when the unfilled professorship was canceled from the faculty list, but, to judge from the statement in the Catalogue, the hope of providing a complete agricultural course survived until 1863.

The interest in meteorology did not fail, however, because of its association with the ill-fated agricultural course. Meteorological instruments were included in the purchases made with the Regents' approval in 1854 by Alexander Winchell, Professor of Physics and Civil Engineering. His account for instruments in June of that year totaled $500. An additional sum of $500 was appropriated, which he exceeded by $135.75. The following action was recorded in October: Page  490

A memorial was received from Professor Winchell stating that the University is now in possession of a complete suite of Meteorological Instruments and recommending that some provision be made for the keeping of a regular record of Meteorological Observations at the University. Whereupon, it was ordered that Professor Winchell procure a bound blank book ruled according to the forms issued by the Smithsonian Institution and keep therein a record of regular Meteorological Observations at the University.

(R.P., 1837-64, p. 575.)

In accordance with this action, records were made by Winchell from 1854 to 1857 and were sent to the Smithsonian Institution for publication. In 1852 Dr. H. R. Schetterly made meteorological records at Ann Arbor; also, from 1852 to 1856, Lum Woodruff made such records three and one-half miles east of Ann Arbor. According to Winchell, the records by these observers were published by the Smithsonian Institution. The Winchell Papers in the University archives contain a large amount of meteorological data from other stations in Michigan, some for dates as early as 1823, as well as records from distant parts of the United States, both east and west. These records include temperature, rainfall, barometric pressure, wind, clouds, and humidity. Meteorological tables for several stations in Michigan give means by months during several years for the chief meteorological elements.

In Regent Hubbard's compilation of bylaws (Bylaws, 1922, p. 67) is contained the statement: "The Director of the Observatory shall have charge of the Observatory and of the astronomical and meteorological instruments and apparatus."

Mark Walrod Harrington, third Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory, 1879-91, gave much attention to meteorology, including the teaching of the subject, the securing of instruments, and the keeping of records (see Part III: Department of Astronomy). In the University Calendar for 1879-80 a two-hour course designated as General Meteorology was announced. Later the course was called Modern Meteorology and an elementary course in physics was made a prerequisite. Eight students enrolled in meteorology for the first semester of 1880-81. Some conception of the importance assigned to meteorology is conveyed by the heading, "Astronomy and Meteorology," in the University Calendar of 1885-86, above the description of courses in the Department of Astronomy.

In response to Harrington's request soon after his arrival, $850 was appropriated for meteorological instruments. He secured a Hough's barograph, a Hough's thermograph and an anemograph of St. Gibbon's pattern for wind velocity and direction. From the United States Signal Service he obtained a standard thermometer, a psychrometer, a terrestrial-radiation thermometer, and a solar-radiation thermometer. Tridaily records of the barograph, thermograph, and anemograph were reported to the State Board of Health at Lansing. Harrington stated in his report to the Regents for the period October 1, 1879 — January 1, 1881, that continuous records of the three most important meteorological elements had never before been made at Ann Arbor, and, excepting a record of the velocity of the wind, never before in Michigan, so far as he knew. The report was composed of detailed observations, grouped under the three headings indicated in the following summary:

1. The climate of Ann Arbor (temperature, relative humidity, barometer, clouds, ozone, precipitation, and direction and velocity of wind). The rainfall for 1880 reached forty-four inches, which was unusually large, as the yearly average for Ann Arbor was about thirty-six Page  491inches. In the special table, "Gales at Ann Arbor during 1880," the wind direction, duration, and maximum velocity were correlated with the change of temperature, with barometric pressure, and also with the relative humidity, cloudiness, and kind of clouds. The relationship between the conditions at Ann Arbor and the weather of the United States in general was shown in an interesting column, in which was noted especially the association with low-pressure areas in different parts of the country.

2. The diurnal fluctuation of the meteorological elements. It was found that the wind velocity fluctuates very much as the temperature does, that, on the average, the wind is lightest at about sunrise, increases rapidly in velocity till noon or soon after, and then falls rapidly until sunset, and after that slowly through the night until it reaches its minimum at about sunrise.

3. The character of local storms. Thunderstorms, hailstorms, and squalls of brief duration were here described, and correlated with the chief meteorological elements. In a special analysis of a sudden thunderstorm the following conclusion was reached:

… The squall accompanied a small high pressure center, the upper part of which — represented by the cloud — was a little in advance of the lower. This column of heavier air was accompanied by heavy rain and vivid electric discharges, which extended out from it but a short distance. From the base of the column the air was pouring out radially in all directions.

(Harrington, p. 19.)

Meteorological records that Harrington began in January, 1880, and continued until the end of his administration, were copied by William J. Hussey in a volume now kept at the Observatory. Harrington added to the equipment two small seismoscopes which indicated only the time of occurrence of seismic disturbances. In 1884 he established the American Meteorological Journal. He made many contributions to this journal, and served as its editor until 1892.

Harrington was granted a leave of absence from the University in June, 1891, for the first semester of the following year. He went to Washington, D.C., to reorganize the meteorological work of the Federal Government, and on July 1, 1891, became first Chief of the Weather Bureau. The course Modern Meteorology was bracketed (to be omitted) in the Calendar for 1891-92 because of his absence, and since that time has not been offered in the Department of Astronomy.

In 1909-10 Elementary Meteorology, a two-hour course developed by Irving Day Scott (Oberlin '00, Ph.D. Michigan '12), Instructor in Physiographical Geology, was first taught in the Department of Geology.* It was an elementary treatment of the dynamics of the atmosphere, including properties and movements of the atmosphere, weather and its variations, and some account of weather prediction, and was designed for prospective teachers of physical geography in the high schools. Physiography 3 was a prerequisite. In 1920-21 one of the two elementary geology courses was "strongly advised" for students entering Physiography 3, and a year later three preliminary courses were required, making a sequence of four prerequisite to Elementary Meteorology. By 1923-24, however, this long sequence of prerequisites ceased to appear in the Catalogue.

The beginning, growth, and separation of courses in geography by the side of courses in geology from 1914 to 1923 had little or no effect on Elementary Meteorology except a change in course numbering. In the high school, however, physical geography has been displaced Page  492to a large extent by other subjects, and consequently, although the course in meteorology continues to be offered at the present in the Department of Geology, the demand for it has undergone a slight decline. The subject has recently been taken over by Ralph Leroy Belknap ('23e, Sc.D. '29), Assistant Professor of Geology, who has worked two seasons in Greenland on upper-air circulation (see Part III: Department of Geology).

During the directorship of Asaph Hall, Jr., 1892-1905, meteorological records were continued, and were sent to the Michigan State Board of Health. In 1905 this board discontinued its meteorological work. William Joseph Hussey, Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory from 1905 to 1926, adopted the system of meteorological observations of the United States Weather Bureau, and in 1907, upon his recommendation to the Regents, President Angell took up the question and secured the establishment of a United States Weather Bureau station at the Observatory. Some of the old meteorological instruments needed repair — for example, a heavy wind had carried off the anemometer balls and had broken the shaft. New instruments were also purchased to complete the equipment necessary to make records in accordance with the government requirements. The work of the station has continued to the present time.

Necessary changes have been made in the time and method of recording the observations. To 1905 they were made at 7:00 A.M., 2:00 P.M., and 9:00 P.M., in accordance with the method adopted by the Michigan State Board of Health. The Weather Bureau observations, made twice a day, at 7:00 A.M. and 7:00 P.M., include barometric pressure, air temperature, relative humidity, direction and velocity of the wind, precipitation, and cloudiness. Records are also kept of the daily maximum and minimum temperatures and of such extraordinary phenomena as severe thunder and lightning, dense fogs, heavy frosts, ice storms, dust storms, auroras, and seismic disturbances.

Regarding meteorological equipment, Hussey stated in 1912:

Continuous instrumental records are also obtained of the velocity of the wind, as recorded by the anemometer; of the air temperature by a Richard thermograph; of the relative humidity by a Richard hygrograph and of the atmospheric pressure by a Richard aneroid barograph.

At the present time, as the hygrograph is not in use, the relative humidity is determined twice a day with the use of a wet- and dry-bulb sling psychrometer. The other instrumental records have been continued to the present time.

The regular meteorological observations are sent each month to the Lansing station of the United States Weather Bureau. From April 1 to September 30 each year the daily observations are telegraphed each morning to the Chicago station for the use of the Corn and Wheat Section. During the winter season a weekly report of the average depth of snow is sent to Lansing. Each morning a weather report is telephoned for publication in the Ann Arbor Daily News. The Observatory is thus continuing to contribute valuable public services through the use of its meteorological equipment.

The meteorological work at the Observatory is now conducted on the basis of a volunteer station. Because of the nearness of two primary Government Weather Bureau stations the relative value of the local work is not as great as it was in the time of Harrington.

Page  493

American Journal of Meteorology, 1884-92.
Calendar, Univ. Mich., 1879-1914.
Catalogue …, Univ. Mich., 1856-57, 1914-23.
Catalogue and Register, Univ. Mich., 1923-27.
General Register Issue, Univ. Mich., 1927-40.
Harrington, Mark W.Report of the Director of the Detroit Observatory … for the Period Beginning October 1, 1879, and Ending January 1, 1881. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1881. (Observatory Report, 1879-81.)
Hinsdale, Burke A.History of the University of Michigan. Ed. by Isaac N. Demmon. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1906.
Hussey, William J. MS, "Diary," 1906-25. Univ. Mich.
"Mark Walrod Harrington …"Mich. Alum., 34 (1928): 343.
New York Times, Jan. 8, 1909.
Organization and Aims of the University of Michigan as Reflected in Its By-Laws …, 1922. Comp. by Lucius L. Hubbard. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1923. (Bylaws, 1922).
President's Report, Univ. Mich., 1880-1909.
Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1879-1940. (R.P.)
Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Michigan, 1849-1940. (R.S.P.I.)
University of Michigan Regents' Proceedings …, 1837-1864. Ed. by Isaac N. Demmon. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1915. (R.P., 1837-64.)