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Title: Holcomb, Fitz, and Peate: Three 19th Century American Telescope Makers
Author: Multhauf, Robert P.
Language: English
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                           CONTRIBUTIONS FROM
                                PAPER 26

                        HOLCOMB, FITZ, AND PEATE:

    INTRODUCTION—_Robert P. Multhauf_                                  156

      I. Amasa Holcomb—_Autobiographical Sketch_                       160

     II. Henry Fitz—_Julia Fitz Howell_                                164

    III. John Peate—_F. W. Preston and William J. McGrath, Jr._        171


Three 19th Century American Telescope Makers

_Practically all the telescopes used by amateur scientists in
18th-century America were of European origin. Our dependence upon foreign
sources for these instruments continued well into the 19th century, and
the beginning of telescope making in this country has conventionally been
associated with the names of Alvan Clark and John Brashear, whose work
dates from the 1860’s._

_Presented here are biographical sketches of two predecessors and a
contemporary of Clark and Brashear whose obscurity is not deserved. The
accounts relate some hitherto little-known aspects of telescope making in
America as it progressed from mechanic art to science._

THE AUTHOR _of the Introduction, Robert P. Multhauf, is head curator of
the department of science and technology in the United States National
Museum, Smithsonian Institution._


_Robert P. Multhauf_

The telescope was invented about 1600. It was brought to America about a
half-century later, and within another century had become a commonplace
appurtenance to the library of the cultivated gentleman.[1]

Throughout this period, from Galileo to Herschel, the telescope found
use in scientific astronomy, although the possibility of contributing to
the science of astronomy by simple observation diminished continuously
after the time of Galileo. Herschel’s work had aimed at the advancement
of scientific astronomy through increasing spectacularly our powers of
vision, just as had that of Galileo in the 17th century and of Hale
in the 20th. But even in Herschel’s time the monstrous size of the
instrument required made the project something of a national effort. The
telescopes of the 18th-century American gentleman were already toys, as
far as the astronomer was concerned.

However, the telescope had another, if less glamorous, use in the 18th
century. This was its use in positional astronomy, in the ever more
precise measurement of the relative positions of objects seen in the
heavens. Measurement had been the purpose served by pre-telescopic
astronomical instruments, the sighting bars of the Ptolemaic observers of
Alexandria and the elegant quadrants of Tycho Brahe. For a time after
the invention of the telescope the professional astronomer resisted
the innovation, but by the end of the 17th century the new optical
instrument was being adapted to the quadrant and other instruments for
the precise measurement of the positions of heavenly bodies in relation
to the time-honored astronomical coordinates. By the late 18th century
telescopes were found serving three relatively distinct purposes: the
increased magnification of the sky in general (in which use Herschel’s
48-inch reflector had made all others obsolete): the more precise
measurement of planetary and stellar positions (and, conversely, of the
Earth’s shape) by means of the quadrant, vertical circle, zenith sector,
and similar instruments; and the simple edification of the educated but
not learned classes, who wished not only to see what the astronomer
saw, but to have an instrument also useful for looking occasionally at
interesting objects on earth.

Of these three purposes the second was the most unimpeachably scientific.
It is remarkable that the earliest American-made telescopes of which
we have knowledge were made for this purpose and not for the mere
gratification of the curiosity of the educated layman. These are the
telescopes of the remarkable Philadelphia mechanic, David Rittenhouse
(1732-96). In an atmosphere not unlike the intellectual democracy that
characterized the formation of the Royal Society a century earlier in
London, Rittenhouse began as a clockmaker and ended as president of the
American Philosophical Society, our counterpart of the Royal Society,
in Philadelphia. He demonstrated not merely that an instrument-maker
was capable of being a scientist, but also that the work of the
instrument-maker, as it had developed by the late 18th century, was in
itself scientific work. One of several observers assigned by the Society
to the observation of the transit of Venus in 1769, he constructed
instruments of the most advanced types, apparently employing European
lenses, and used the instruments himself. Of these, a 1¾-inch refractor
mounted as a transit instrument stands in the hall of the Philosophical
Society. It is probably the oldest extant American-made telescope.

Rittenhouse made other telescopes which survive, notably two
zenith sectors now in the U.S. National Museum of the Smithsonian
Institution,[2] but he does not appear to have made them for commercial
sale. In the history of telescope-making in America he seems to have
been something of a “sport.” Not only were the instruments which still
grace the desks of Washington, Jefferson, and others, of European
manufacture, but the earliest observatories in the United States (eleven
between 1786 and 1840) were outfitted exclusively (except for the
Rittenhouse observatory) with European instruments.[3] In its endeavor to
establish a permanent observatory even Rittenhouse’s own Philosophical
Society seems to have thought exclusively in terms of instruments of
European manufacture.

It must therefore have required some courage for Amasa Holcomb,
43-year-old Massachusetts surveyor, to approach Professor Silliman
of Yale in 1830 with a telescope of his own construction. In the
autobiography printed here, Holcomb states that all the telescopes used
in this country before 1833 had been obtained in Europe, and indicates
that thereafter “the whole market was in his hands during thirteen
years,” a period which would fall, apparently, between 1833 and 1845. It
should be mentioned, although it is no conclusive negation of Holcomb’s
claim, that the New York instrument-maker Richard Patten in 1830 built a
telescopic theodolite that was designed by Ferdinand Hassler for use on
the Wilkes Expedition, and was subsequently used at the observatory of
the Navy’s “Depot of Charts and Instruments” in Washington.[4] We do not
know the source of Patten’s lenses.

Holcomb would appear to have succeeded as a commercial maker of
telescopes. He claims to have sold his instruments “in almost every
state in the Union,” and also abroad, but we know nothing of what use
was made of any of them. The telescope he showed Professor Silliman was
a refractor. Another, preserved in the Smithsonian Institution,[5] is
like Rittenhouse’s 1769 instrument, a transit. But Holcomb seems to have
specialized in reflectors of the Herschelean type, _i.e._, instruments,
in which the image is viewed through an eye-piece located at the mouth
of the tube. It is probably reasonable to doubt that the serious
astronomer of this period shared Holcomb’s enthusiasm for this type of
difficult-to-adjust instrument in the small sizes he produced (10-inches
is the largest reported). In 1834, 1835, and 1836 he presented
instruments of this type to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, where
committees compared them with the best available European refractors and
found them more than adequate. One of Holcomb’s instruments of 1835,
apparently his only surviving reflector, is now in the Smithsonian
Institution (see appendix, p. 184).

Toward 1845, Holcomb tells us, “one after another went into the
business,” and indeed they did. At the American Institute Fair in New
York that year a gold medal was given Henry Fitz “for the best achromatic
telescope.” In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Alvan Clark is supposed to have
already taken up the hobby of lens and mirror making. And in McKeesport,
Pennsylvania, an amateur telescope-maker now known only as “Squire
Wampler” made a small achromatic refractor which he demonstrated in 1849
to a 9-year-old boy named John Brashear, of whom more later.

Some of Holcomb’s telescopes must have come to the attention of Henry
Fitz during his wide travels as a locksmith after 1830, if, as is
reported, he was at that time pursuing his avocational interest in
astronomy. It is interesting to note that both Holcomb and Fitz seem to
have pursued feverishly the new photographic process of Daguerre in 1839,
the former near the end of his career as a telescope-maker, the latter
near the beginning of his.

The decade before 1845, when “one after another went into the business,”
seems to have been marked by the flowering of observational astronomy
in the United States. The professional work of the Navy’s Depot of
Charts and Instruments (forerunner of the Naval Observatory) began
about 1838. In 1844 the first instrument larger than 6 inches came to
this country, an 11-inch refractor for the Cincinnati Observatory. The
Bonds established what was to be the Harvard Observatory in 1839, and
by 1847 Harvard had obtained its famous 15-inch refractor from Merz and
Mabler.[6] Fitz was to have a more sophisticated market than had Holcomb.

Despite the glowing recommendations of the Franklin Institute
committee,[7] no actual use of Holcomb’s instruments by astronomers has
come to light. We may owe to the rapid progress of American astronomy
after 1840 the fact that we have evidence of a more distinguished history
for some of Fitz’s instruments. It will also be recalled that Holcomb
specialized in Herschelian reflectors. Fitz, on the other hand, made few
reflectors. He specialized in achromatic telescopes mounted equatorially,
the type of instrument which was in greatest demand among professional
astronomers at the time.

Some of Fitz’s instruments had individual histories and were associated
with important events in astronomy. One was taken in 1849 on the Chilean
astronomical expedition of Lieut. James M. Gilliss. Another was used by
L. M. Rutherfurd in his epochal astronomical photography at Columbia
University. One, made for the Allegheny Observatory, is still in use at
that institution. It appears from his account book that Fitz made many
telescopes, and some have turned up in strange places. The lens of one
of his refractors was located a few years ago in South Carolina, in use
as substitute for the lens in an automobile headlamp![8] At an eastern
university in 1958 the writer saw another of his refractors incorporated
into apparatus used in graduate student experimentation.

Among the others who began telescope-making about 1845 was the portrait
painter who was to become one of the world’s foremost telescope-makers,
Alvan Clark. Clark is supposed to have become first interested in lens
and mirror making about 1844, and, as a resident of Cambridge, Mass.,
to have been inspired three years later by the great 15-inch refractor
installed at Harvard. His first encouragement came from the British
astronomer W. R. Dawes, with whom he had a correspondence on their
respective observations and to whom he sold a 7½ inch refractor in 1851.
The following year he established, with his sons, the firm of Alvan
Clark and Sons, a name which was later to become one of the most famous
in the field of telescope making. Whereas Holcomb had demonstrated
that telescopes could be made in this country, and Fitz that American
instruments were adequate to the needs of the professional astronomer,
Clark was to prove that American instruments could compete commercially
with the finest made in Europe. In 1862 Alvan Clark and Sons completed
an 18½-inch refractor which was long to serve the Dearborn Observatory.
It is now in the Adler Planetarium. The famous Lick Observatory 36-inch
refractor was completed in 1887, the year of Clark’s death, and his sons
went on to build the 40-inch Yerkes refractor, (1897) still the largest
refractor ever built. It is no reflection on Clark to note that he was
more fortunate than Fitz, in his longer life, his association with Warner
and Swasey in the construction of mountings, and in the continuity given
to his work by his sons.

Let us return for a moment to the 1840’s and John Brashear, the
9-year-old Pennsylvania boy who, was given his first opportunity of
looking through a small refractor telescope by its maker, Squire Wampler
of McKeesport. Brashear became a professional machinist, but retained an
interest in astronomy which led him to make a 5-inch achromatic refractor
in 1872 and subsequently to show the instrument to Samuel Pierpont
Langley,[9] then director of the Allegheny Observatory. With Langley’s
encouragement Brashear went on to construct a 12-inch reflector and in
1880 decided to make a business of telescope-making. He subsequently
made, among other telescopes, a 30-inch refractor in 1906 for the
Allegheny Observatory and in 1918 a 72-inch reflector, at Victoria,
British Columbia. Brashear’s greatest fame, however, came from his
accessory instruments—spectroscopes and the like.

Not the least thrilling aspect of the story of the spectacular ascendancy
of American-made telescopes is the story of their financing—of the
big-telescope era in American philanthropy and the financial giants
(Lick, Hooker, Thaw, Yerkes, and others) who peopled it. In the biography
of our third telescope-maker, John Peate, we see at once the persistence
of the amateur and the difficulty of his position at the end of the 19th

Peate, too, may have acquired his interest in astronomy during the years
just before 1845. It has been surmised that he was inspired by the
sensation created by the comet of 1843, but it is more likely that his
interest resulted from visits to European observatories while he was on
a walking tour in 1859. Unlike our other amateurs, he did not change his
profession (he was a Methodist minister), being certainly at less liberty
to do so, but he adapted his hobby to it in an interesting way. Peate was
something of a poor man’s philanthropist, and his fame would have been no
greater than that role customarily brings had he not undertaken in 1893
the astonishingly audacious project of making the largest glass reflector
that had ever been built. In this project he assumes, like his English
contemporary A. A. Common, a position intermediate between the makers
of giant metallic specula, Herschel and Rosse, and the makers of the
California glass reflectors of the 20th century.[10] In a professional
telescope-maker of the end of the 19th century, Peate’s accomplishment
would have been remarkable. In an amateur it is amazing. It detracts
nothing from Peate to reveal, as does the sketch printed here, that the
accolade which this project deserves (but has never received) belongs in
part to George Howard and the Standard Plate Glass Company. His example
and theirs encourage us to hope that the day of the amateur in science
may not be at an end.

_I._ Amasa Holcomb, 1787-1875

    _Amasa Holcomb was born in 1787, the year John Fitch
    demonstrated his steamboat before the Constitutional Convention
    assembled at Philadelphia, and three years before the death
    of Benjamin Franklin. Two of Holcomb’s telescopes remained
    in the attic of the family home in Southwick, Massachusetts,
    until 1933, when they were offered by his descendants to the
    Smithsonian Institution.[11] With them came a manuscript book
    of meteorological and astronomical notes, and the following
    short sketch of the life of Holcomb, unsigned but almost
    certainly autobiographical. It appears to have been written
    when the subject was about 80 years old (1867)._

The subject of this notice was born June 18, 1787. The place was
Simsbury Connecticut previous to 1768. That year Simsbury was divided
and his birth place fell in Granby Con. that being the name of the
new town. It remained so until 1804 when the line between Connecticut
and Massachusetts was moved further south and his birth place fell in
Southwick Massachusetts. The house was about a quarter of a mile north of
the new state line, and on a road about half a mile west of the main road
from Westfield to Simsbury and Hartford. Here his father and mother lived
and died, having lived in three different towns and two different states
without changing the place of their residence. Here Amasa was born and
past his early youth. His grand father and grand mother on his fathers
side lived and died in a house about thirty rods further south, on the
same road. His grandfather’s name was Elijah, and was a son of Nathaniel
Holcomb 3d, and married Violet Cornish of Simsbury Con. daughter of
Capt. James Cornish. His fathers name was Elijah Holcomb Junr. He was
a farmer and cooper. In the latter part of his life his father became
involved in debt, and mortgaged the farm. His son Amasa paid the debt
and the father Elijah Holcomb Junr occupied the farm until he died Oct
5th 1841. The grandfather on the mothers side was Silas Holcomb a son
of Judah Holcomb 1st and grandson of Nathanial Holcomb 2d. He lived in
the northwest part of Granby, near Hartland line, where he owned a large
farm and beautiful home. He kept a park for deer and cultivated fruit,
and made raisins. He married Mary Post of Hebron Connecticut, and in
this beautiful place they lived and died. There Lucy Holcomb the mother
of Amasa was born in 1767. During her short life, she was one of the
excellent ones of the earth, and labored for the welfare of her children
by instruction and example, until she died August 31 1800. In a very
hot day in 1797, she attempted to get some cattle out a field of wheat.
The men were at work in a distant field, too far off to know about it.
She became heated, and never recovered, though she lived three years.
During the last year of her life she became so reduced, that for a long
while she could not speak a loud word, but she could and did whisper
some good advice to her children. Her son Amasa never forgot it, and he
always remembered his mother with affection and gratitude. She had two
sisters but no brother. The house where she was born is still standing,
but has passed out of the family. The house where his father and mother
[lived and died][12] spent their married life, and where he was born, has
been taken down, and a new house built on the same place by his brother
Newton Holcomb who now owns the old home stead. Here Amasa spent his
early youth and school days. There was not a schoolhouse in the district
where he lived, until he was past having any use for a common school.
The schools were kept in dwelling houses, one part was occupied by the
family, and the other part by the school. In these schools were taught,
reading, spelling, writing and the first rules of arithmetic. In some of
them a little English grammar was taught. Climena Holcomb, Lois Gains,
Bethuel Barber, Samuel Frasier, and James L. Adair, in the order in which
they are named, were his teachers. At the age of fifteen he was asked to
take a school in Suffield Connecticut. He was inspected and passed and
took the school. A large portion of the pupils were older and stouter
than he was, but they had the good sense to submit to be governed and
taught, and good progress was made. But before this a great impulse had
been given to his mind. He had an uncle Abijah Holcomb that went to sea
about 1798 and never returned. Abijah had fitted for college and left
a valuable collection of books. Some of them were classical, and some
scientific. Here he found books on Geometry, Navigation, and astronomy.
Amasa had free access to these books, and they opened a brighter world
before him. He went into these studies with great pleasure, and a mind
fully awake, but _alone_. None of these branches were taught in any
school to which he had access. He had so far progressed without help, in
Geometry, Surveying, navigation, Optics and Astronomy, that at the great
Solar eclipse in June 1806 he could make astronomical computations, and
was prepared to observe the eclipse with instruments of his own making.
The stars were visible during about four minutes of total darkness. He
computed, and published, an almanac for the next year 1807, and also for
the year 1808. He went into the business of surveying land about this
time. He loved to climb the mountains, and enjoyed fine health. In the
year 1808 he married Miss Gillet Kendall, a daughter of Noadiah Kendall
of Granby Connecticut. She was one of the best of women, and had no
enemies, but was beloved by every body who was acquainted with her. For a
while he took students into his own house, and taught them such branches
as each one had engaged to be instructed in. Julius M. Coy of Suffield,
studied surveying—Levi —— also from Suffield studied Navigation, and
soon went to sea, and after a while command[ed] a vessel. Benoni B.
Bacon of Simsbury, studied Surveying and astronomy, Joseph W. King of
Suffield, studied surveying—Henry Merwin of Granby studied Surveying,
Jefferson Cooley, a graduate of Yale College, studied surveying and
civil engineering. He had also students from Granville Mass. But
the school interfered with his other business, and he discontinued
it. He manufactured about this time a good many sets of surveyors
instruments—compasses, chains, scales, protractors, and dividers, some
for his pupils and some for others. He also manufactured, magnets,
electrical machines, leveling instruments, and some others. He was
greatly attached to the business of surveying, and had more applications
than he could attend to. He was compelled to leave it in 1825, and go
into the business of civil engineering, which also in a few years, gave
way for the business of manufacturing telescopes. At the commencement,
he never thought of its ever becoming a business of profit. About the
year 1830 he had completed an achromatic telescope, which he took to
New Haven, and asked Prof. Benjamin Silliman to look at it. He did so,
and at once took an interest in it, and published a notice of it in the
American Journal of science, of which he was editor. He manufactured
principally Reflecting telescopes, of the Herschelian kind. About the
year 1833, he began to have orders for telescopes. Among these orders
was one from William J. Young, a celebrated Philosophical instrument
maker of Philadelphia, who wanted two small diagonal metallic reflectors
for two Transit instruments that he was making. Mr Holcomb made the
articles wanted, and thought he would take them and a telescope and
visit Philadelphia. Mr Young introduced him to the late Sears C. Walker,
and Mr Walker introduced him to Mr Hamilton, Actuary of the Franklin
Institute of the State of Pennsylvania, and the Actuary appointed a
committee to examine the telescope. He selected the committee from the
standing committee on Science and the Arts of the Institute. Mr Patterson
of the Mint, Alexander D. Bach superintendent of the Coast survey, Dr
Robert Hare the chemist, James P. Espey, Sears C. Walker, Isiah T. Lukens
and some others. These were among the first scientific men of America.
The committee examined the telescope, and compared it with others of
European manufacture. The Report of that committee may be found in the
Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 14 p. 169. The next year 1835
he took a larger telescope to Philadelphia, and offered it to the same
committee for examination and comparison with European telescopes. That
Report may be found in the Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol 16 p.
11. The next year 1836 he presented a Telescope 14 feet long to the same
committee. Their report may be found in the Journal of the Franklin
Institute Vol. 18 p. 312. These Reports furnish the best information
in regard to the performance of these telescopes. The committee gave
them a high character, and they were sold in almost every state in the
Union. One went to Seramp in the East indies, and one to one of the
Sandwich islands in the Pacific ocean. While he was pursuing his labors
as Engineer, and manufacturing Telescopes, and other instruments, in 1839
the news reached this country from Paris, of Daguerre’s great discovery
of taking pictures on silver plates by solar light. The discoverer had
not then succeeded in taking likenesses from life. Holcombe immediately
commenced experimenting and soon succeeded in taking portraits, on
silver plates, made sensitive to light by Iodine. There was soon a great
demand for instruments to take portraits. He had for a considerable
time as much as he could do to supply the applications he received for
these instruments, from 1839 to 1845. As the calls for these instruments
lessened he continued the manufacture of telescopes. He was the first
that sold a telescope of American manufacture. All the telescopes used
in this country before 1833, had been obtained in Europe. It had been
said that they could not be made in this country. He had been greatly
assisted in his sales, by the influence and recommendation of scientific
men. It was soon discovered that telescopes could be made in America and
about 1845, one after another went into the business, and there is now
no further need of going to Europe for telescopes, as good ones can be
made in the United States as can be made in Europe. The whole market was
in his hands during thirteen years. During this time the business was
good and paid well. The competition afterward reduced the profit. In 1816
he was chosen select man and assessor in his own town, which office he
held during four successive years, and held the office occasionally by
subsequent elections. In 1832 he was chosen to represent the town in the
Legislature of Mass and he was reelected three successive terms. In 1852
he was elected to the State senate. In 1833 he was appointed a Justice of
the Peace for the county of Hampden, which office he has held every year
since, and his last commission does not expire until May 1875, at which
time, if he should live to see it, he will be but a few days less than 88
years old. In 1837 he received from Williams College the Honorary degree
of A.M. In 1831 he was ordained a minister in the Methodist Episcopal
church. He preached constantly on the sabbath during many years, and
afterward occasionally until he was eighty years old.

[Illustration: FIGURE 1.—Page from manuscript sketch of the life of Amasa
Holcomb, now in the collections of the U.S. National Museum.]

[Illustration: FIGURE 2.—Herschelian reflecting telescope (USNM 310598)
built by Amasa Holcomb and shown by him at the Franklin Institute,
Philadelphia, in 1835. The Institute’s report of the demonstration is
given in the appendix (p. 182). (_Smithsonian photo 11000-a_)]

[Illustration: FIGURE 3.—Eyepiece and tripod head of the Holcomb
reflecting telescope shown in figure 2. (_Smithsonian photo 11000_)]

[Illustration: FIGURE 4.—Transit telescope (USNM 310599) made by Amasa
Holcomb. The aperture is 1½ inches, length 21 inches, and axis 14 inches.
It lacks the original support. (_Smithsonian photo 43472-c_)]

_II._ Henry Fitz, 1808-1863

_Julia Fitz Howell_

    _Henry Fitz died suddenly through an accident in 1863, when
    he was in his 55th year. His widow closed his shop in New
    York City and moved the equipment to Southold, Long Island,
    where it was used by his son to complete certain contracts in
    progress. Thereafter it remained essentially as it was until
    nearly the present time, when the shop was offered to the U.S.
    National Museum of the Smithsonian Institution by Mrs. Julia
    Fitz Howell, granddaughter of Fitz. The decision to construct
    a new Museum of History and Technology made it possible to
    accept this generous offer, and the complicated project of
    transferring the shop and reassembling it was accomplished in
    1957 through the assistance of Mr. L. C. Eichner.[13]_

    _Although a few duplicate items were eliminated, the shop is
    essentially complete, including such items as Fitz’s account
    books, the small rouge box he used to polish lenses in the
    course of a walk, and his door key. Through the assistance
    of Mr. Eichner and Mr. Arthur V. A. Fitz the Smithsonian has
    obtained a comet-seeker telescope and Fitz’s first instrument,
    a small draw telescope._

    _The following biographical sketch was written by Mrs. Howell
    on the basis of papers in the possession of the family._

Henry Fitz, inventor and telescope maker, was born in Newburyport,
Massachusetts, on December 31, 1808. Little is known of his mother, Susan
Page Fitz, except that she was probably of Scottish ancestry. His father,
Henry Fitz, Sr., was a hatter by trade and the youngest son of Mark
Fitz, who for several years represented his city in the Massachusetts
General Court.

[Illustration: FIGURE 5.—The telescope-maker’s shop of Henry Fitz as
reconstructed in the U.S. National Museum. (_Smithsonian photo 46545_)]

Newburyport was then a prosperous and fast growing maritime community and
the Fitzes, though not among its wealthy citizens, were a public spirited
and reasonably prosperous family. As in other sections of New England,
the War of 1812 made great changes in this pleasing picture. The town’s
shipping and ship-building had been brought almost to a standstill and
all its business suffered disastrously. After the war recovery was very
slow. Since few needed or could afford new beaver hats, Henry Fitz in
1819 took his wife and three small children first to Albany, New York,
where he worked at his trade for awhile, and later to New York City.

To young Henry, aged eleven, New York was an exciting and stimulating
place and he watched all its activities with eager interest. The
father found the city stimulating in a different way. An enthusiastic
Universalist, he met in New York many persons with similar leanings.
He soon established a religious weekly, _The Gospel Herald_, which he
edited for several years. It is therefore not surprising that young Henry
was set to learning the printer’s trade, but although he rapidly became
skilled, he didn’t especially like the trade. What he most enjoyed about
it was tinkering with the machinery of the shop. In this his mechanical
ability soon became evident. When his father relinquished his editorship,
Henry, then nineteen, gladly turned to different work.

He chose locksmithing, which he learned speedily and well in the shop
of William Day of New York. The years 1830 to 1839 found him travelling
between New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Orleans, following
the activities of the building trades and trying by long hours and
austere living to save money for a locksmith shop of his own. For the
sake of both health and pocketbook, he never rode if he could walk,
neither drank nor smoked, ate little meat, and lived chiefly on graham
bread and water.

[Illustration: FIGURE 6.—Henry Fitz, from a photograph in the collections
of the U.S. National Museum. (_Smithsonian photo 44594-b_)]

Evenings were spent in reading, study, and the pursuit of hobbies, chief
of which was astronomy. His diaries and letters of this period show him
buying telescopes and lenses and carrying them with him on his travels.
He first made a telescope in 1838, a reflector, with which he delighted
to show the stars and planets to his friends. The well-known Reverend
Clapp of New Orleans referred to him in a public address as “the young
locksmith who knew more about the heavenly bodies than anyone else in
the United States.” Henry was pleased with this compliment, even while
deprecating the enthusiasm which prompted it.

[Illustration: FIGURE 7.—Certificate of award to Henry Fitz, Jr., by
the American Institute, 1852, “For the best achromatic telescope.”
(_Smithsonian photo 46815-a_)]

[Illustration: FIGURE 8.—Advertisement of Henry Fitz, about 1850.
(_Smithsonian photo 44594-a_)]

[Illustration: FIGURE 9.—Refracting telescope, comet seeker, (USNM
317027) by Henry Fitz, 8¼-inch aperture, 61-inch tube, fitted for
equatorial mounting. The stand is lacking. (_Smithsonian photo 46815_)]

Although he saved money, his work did not bring him the financial or
other rewards that he had hoped for. In spring of 1839 he appears to have
worked as a speculum maker with Wolcott and others—one of them may have
been his acquaintance John Johnson—and to have read of Daguerre’s work in
photography. To learn more of these experiments, as well as to inquire
into optics and optical glass, he sailed to Europe in August of that
year, taking passage by steerage.

He returned to New York in November 1839 and in that month, according to
the testimony of his son Harry, made a portrait with a camera invented
by Wolcott. This camera portrait he believed to be the first ever made.
In 1840, after more experimenting, he set up a studio in Baltimore,
where his father was then living, and spent several years there “taking
likenesses.” At the same time he continued to work with telescopes and
lenses. His first refractors were built there, instruments he later
referred to as crude affairs.

While in Baltimore he took a step which marks the beginning of the final
phase of his career. In June 1844 he married Julia Ann Wells of Southold,
Long Island, whom he had known for about a decade and with whom he had
long corresponded. Julia was a woman of unusual ability and personality,
less scientific than he but more literary and artistic, and no less
intelligent. With her to encourage him, he continued his experiments in
telescope building. A year after their marriage they moved to New York,
where he was to spend the remainder of his life.

That summer he prepared a 6-inch refracting telescope for exhibition
at the Fair of the American Institute, held annually in New York. This
carefully constructed instrument, with its ingenious tripod and its
achromatic objective—which he had made himself, correcting the curves by
a process of his own invention—won the highest award of the Fair, a gold
medal. It was the first of many such medals he was to earn. His telescope
also received favorable notice from scientists and astronomers, among
them Lewis M. Rutherfurd, a wealthy New Yorker and trustee of Columbia
College. Rutherfurd immediately ordered a 4-inch refractor for his own
observatory. His interest and example soon brought orders from others.

From this time on, Henry Fitz devoted most of his energies to building
telescopes. Cameras were not altogether abandoned. He continued to make
them and to instruct others in their use. He invented a camera lens that
was patented posthumously. He was one of the founders of the American
Photographical Society and remained interested in it all his life. But
from 1845 on, cameras became secondary; he built them between telescope

[Illustration: FIGURE 10.—Henry Fitz made this 13-inch equatorial
refractor in 1861 for the Allegheny Observatory. It is still in use.
The University of Michigan has in use a Fitz refractor of similar size.
(_Photo courtesy Allegheny Observatory_)]

During the years that followed he constantly improved the quality of
his lenses and the accuracy and speed with which he could “execute the
true curves,” as he expressed it. He used better and better glass. In
his early experiments he had taken what came to hand—ordinary tumbler
bottoms, for instance. In his 1845 prize winner he combined Boston-made
flint with French plate glass. But the Boston flint proved too veiny for
any but small lenses and he soon was importing both crown and flint.
He designed and built machines, run by foot power, on which he could
train employees to do much of the labor of lens making, always reserving
the final polishing for himself. He increased the size as well as the
quality of his lenses. By 1856, he was making 12½-inch refractors, which
according to Prof. Loomis, were as large as any that had then been made
in Munich. He built later, still larger ones, of which one was a 16-inch
instrument made for Mr. Van Duzee of Buffalo. It was his ambition to make
a 24-inch one, but this project, for which he had made careful plans, he
did not live to complete.

One of his early successes was a 3¾-inch telescope for the Government
of Haiti. By a happy accident the objective for this instrument proved
to be exceptionally fine and provided a standard which he tried to meet
in all his work. The telescopes of European opticians became another
measuring stick. It was a matter of both personal and patriotic pride to
him that he, an American locksmith untrained in optics, had been able
to invent his own process for making so complex and difficult a thing
as an achromatic lens, and that he was able to manufacture telescopes
to compete with those of European make. He sometimes contracted to make
a telescope equal in performance to an imported one of similar size,
usually at a lower price. The 6¾-inch telescope made in 1849 for Lt. J.
M. Gilliss to use on an astronomical expedition to Chile passed such a
test and greatly enhanced Henry Fitz’s reputation. Another that met such
a test was the 13-inch instrument made for the Allegheny Association at
Pittsburgh in 1861.

His telescopes were procured by private observatories not already
mentioned, among them that of Van Arsdale, in Newark, and of Campbell,
in New York. For Rutherfurd he made several, including a 9- and a
12-inch instrument. The latter is now at Columbia University. Among the
telescopes made for colleges were a 12-inch one for Vassar and another
for the University of Michigan. Besides these and other important
instruments he made many of smaller size—4, 5, 6, and 8 inches.

Most of the time, he was handicapped by lack of capital with which to
develop his business. The savings from locksmithing days he had, on
his father’s advice, invested in Baltimore real estate, but found it
difficult to raise cash on this property when he needed it. With the
many orders that came in, this situation gradually improved, though he
always continued to supervise all phases of the process and to work 12
to 16 hours a day himself. As soon as his eldest son, Harry, was old
enough, he taught him all he knew. The boy proved an apt pupil and a
great help. By 1863 Henry Fitz felt secure enough to give up renting,
and had a house built for his family and business in 11th Street, not
many blocks from his friend and patron, Mr. Rutherfurd. Plans for the
future looked bright. However, the family had hardly moved into the new
home when disaster befell. A heavy chandelier fell on the master of the
house, causing injuries which in a few days proved fatal. Henry Fitz
died on October 31, 1863, at the height of his career, leaving to carry
on his work a widow and six children, the oldest a girl of eighteen, the
youngest an infant.

His son Harry, not yet seventeen, was able satisfactorily to fulfill
the outstanding contracts. In this he had the backing and advice of Mr.
Rutherfurd. In fact, Harry continued the business, though on a smaller
scale, for some twenty years. Eventually he became a teacher of drawing,
pursuing this occupation for over forty years more.

As soon as possible the widow, Julia Ann Wells Fitz, sold the city house
and bought a farm in Peconic, Long Island, near her birthplace, where
she managed to raise her family. All the children showed marked ability.
Louise, the only daughter, married Silas Overton of Peconic, and used
her talents in home and community. The second son, Benjamin, became a
noted painter before his early death in 1890. Robert’s reputation as a
fine mechanic was county-wide. Charles was a prominent business and civic
leader in Suffolk County. George became a physician and inventor and was
for a time Professor at Harvard. All married, and there are now living in
the United States about fifty descendants of Henry Fitz, telescope maker.

A number of his instruments, though made a century ago, are still in use.

_III._ John Peate, 1820-1903

_F. W. Preston and William J. McGrath, Jr._

    _Although John Peate was born when Holcomb was only 33,
    and before that pioneer telescope-maker had produced his
    first instrument, he lived well into the time when American
    telescope-making had come of age. Before Peate’s death George
    Ellery Hale had begun his career as a promoter of large
    telescopes; indeed, the Yerkes 40-inch refractor was completed
    a year prior to Peate’s delivery of his own magnum opus, a
    62-inch reflector, to The American University. For 34 years
    the University sought funds to finance the installation of
    this mirror, until it finally became obsolete as a result of
    advances in the technology of glass mirror making._

    _In 1934 it was sent by the American University to the
    Smithsonian Institution. About this time Dr. F. W. Preston
    undertook the difficult task of reconstructing Peate’s career
    and particularly the story of the great mirror. His results
    were published in the_ Bulletin of the American Ceramic Society
    _in 1936._

    _With the gracious permission of Dr. Preston and the_
    Bulletin, _this article has been condensed, and augmented, for
    publication here by William J. McGrath, Jr., of the United
    States National Museum staff._

John Peate, bricklayer, Methodist minister, and amateur extraordinary
in the art of telescope making, was the first born of Thomas and Mary
Peate.[14] He was born on May 6, 1820, in the small northern Irish town
of Drumskelt. When John was seven, his father, a mason, emigrated to
Quebec, Canada, the first of several moves to cities in Canada and the
United States, terminating in 1836 in Buffalo, New York, where the father
was to spend the last seven years of his life.[15]

Nothing is known of the circumstances of John’s life during these early
years, nor of his education. In 1836, at the age of 16, he entered his
father’s trade as an apprentice bricklayer. He worked at this trade for
about sixteen years, apparently intermittently, for he seems to have been
a student at Oberlin College part of the time between 1842 and 1845.[16]
In the latter year he married Mary Elizabeth Tilden of Buffalo.

Peate’s career as a bricklayer ended in 1851, when he became a full-time
minister, having been converted to his mother’s religion. This came about
in consequence of his attendance, when he was about 20 years old, at a
Methodist revival. There he was “converted,” and, with characteristic
energy and enthusiasm, plunged into his new religion. His attendance at
Oberlin may have been connected with his preparation for the ministry.
In any case, he started to preach in 1849, on trial with the Methodist
Erie Conference, was ordained a deacon in 1851, and an elder two years
later. From this time until he was made a supernumerary in 1894 he worked
full-time as a minister.

The mobility which marked his early life was repeated in his ministerial
career. Including his probationary term he held 19 different appointments
in 14 cities and towns in northwestern Pennsylvania, northeastern Ohio,
and southwestern New York. He was a successful and popular minister, and
is said to have converted some 500 persons at one revival in Jamestown,
New York. J. N. Fradenburgh, historian of the Erie Conference, begins
his sketch of Peate’s life with the phrase, “Who has not heard of John

In 1859 Peate journeyed to Europe, visiting England and Ireland, and
making a walking tour of western Europe and the Middle East. His
biographer Fradenburgh hints that his interest in astronomy was aroused
on this trip. In any event, upon his return home, he took up the study
of the science. His fellow minister, R. N. Stubbs reported that “his
library reveals that difficult and abstruse works became his delight.”
At some point in the perusal of these “abstruse works,” Peate decided
to concentrate on that basic tool, the telescope. It is possible that
he first made a telescope, as many amateurs do, to advance himself in
the study of astronomy, and only after completing it realized that his
primary interest lay in the instruments rather than in the theoretical
science. His natural aptitude for craftsmanship probably exerted a strong
influence in this decision.

His first instrument was a 3-inch refractor which he made and mounted for
his own use. This was about 1870. He next made either a 6-inch refractor
or a 6-inch reflector, or perhaps both. One of these, if there were two,
was mounted by Peate for use at Chautauqua and Jamestown, New York, and
then used in his own observatory at Greenville. After his death it was
taken to Salina, Kansas, by W. F. Hoyt, for a small observatory there.[18]

Thereafter Peate made reflectors exclusively. It is possible that he was
influenced by the treatise on the making of silvered glass reflectors,
by Dr. Henry Draper, published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1865, a
work which led to a great improvement in the construction of reflectors
in this country.[19]

Attempts to trace Peate’s mirrors have been singularly inconclusive. A
7-inch reflector sent to India was still in use in 1903.[20] A 12-inch
reflector made for “Harriman University, Tennessee,” was evidently
mounted, but no record even of the observatory has been found at the
present time [1936].[21] A 15-inch mirror in a reflector located at
Allegheny College in 1935 was probably made by Peate, although the
College records do not show its origin, nor do they mention a 30.5-inch
mirror which Peate was making for Allegheny College in 1891, according
to an article in _The Scientific American_.[22] Definitely Peate’s was
a 22-inch reflector found in about 1935, still in its packing case, at
Thiel College, Greenville, Pennsylvania.[23]

Altogether, 10 lenses and mirrors (sometimes also described as “lenses”)
have been traced. As many as 20 were ascribed to him by some sources at
the time of his death. Of these only his magnum opus, the 62-inch mirror
now in the Smithsonian Institution, can now be found. Most of them seem
never to have been used, but this is not necessarily an indication of
defects in the instruments. As our consideration of the 62-inch mirror
will show, Peate was a competent maker. Nor is it a consequence of his
being an amateur. Many of the large telescopes in the world in the
mid-nineties had lenses and mirrors made by two other Americans, John
Brashear and Alvin Clark, who, like Peate, entered telescope making as
amateurs.[24] But they had the fortune to become associated with well
known professional astronomers. Peate may have erred in presenting his
reflectors to institutions unable to finance their installation. Perhaps
his error was in presenting rather than selling them.

We come now to Dr. Peate’s greatest mirror, the 62-inch reflector. In
September 1893 the annual meeting of the Erie Conference was held at
Dubois, Pennsylvania. This was to be Dr. Peate’s last meeting as an
active minister. In 1894 he would become a supernumerary, a position of
semiretirement, after which he would retire. In order to honor the old
minister and to mark the opening of a new Methodist university, American
University, at Washington, D.C., it was decided to commission Peate
to make a telescope mirror for the school. This was to be no ordinary
reflector but the largest in the world.

While the facts surrounding this commission and its accomplishment
are astounding in themselves it has inspired an even more remarkable
legend, which, although rather unjust to the ability and good sense
of Dr. Peate, indicates the impression his hobby had made on his
contemporaries. According to this legend, John suddenly realized at the
age of seventy-three that he must have something to occupy his time while

[Illustration: FIGURE 11.—Standard Plate Glass Company, Butler,
Pennsylvania, with x marking building where Peate’s 62-inch disc was
cast. (From Preston, fig. 1.)]

“What am I to do all the rest of my life?” he asked of the presiding
officer of the meeting, Bishop Hurst, who was also chancellor of the
newly founded University.

“Oh, study astronomy,” said the Bishop.

“Make a big telescope lens,” said Dr. Wythe.

Dr. Wythe, whose doctorate was in medicine, was a minister well known
in the conference as an inventor and technologist. The legend continues
that, urged on by Wythe, Peate announced to the conference, “I will make
for the new University the largest telescope lens in the world, if you
will defray the out of pocket expenses.”

“Well, how big a lens can you make?” asked the Bishop.

“Oh, as big as that chart on the wall,” said Peate.

“Get a rule and measure the chart.”

The chart was 62 inches across.

“Offer accepted. One 62-inch reflecting telescope from Dr. Peate,”
ordered the Bishop.[25]

The minutes of the conference state:[26]

    Proposition of John Peate … John Peate made a proposition
    to manufacture a large reflecting lens for the University
    providing material for the same was furnished him … a committee
    of 5 was appointed to take the same into consideration. R. N.
    Stubbs, G. H. Humason, N. T. Arnold, G. P. Hukill, and G. B.
    Chase were appointed to that committee.

Although he was 73 years old Peate was in good health and had tremendous
vitality for one his age. He had already made a number of large mirrors,
so that he could estimate the amount of time and energy he would expend
in this work. He knew that if he retained his health for the next few
years he could complete it.

With his typical planned enthusiasm he started his preparations. He wrote
to his usual supplier St. Gobain of France asking the price of a glass
blank large enough for a mirror of this size.[27] They quoted a price
of $18,000—more, obviously, than he could afford. He then canvassed the
glassmakers of Pittsburgh, the center of American glassmaking. However,
the Pittsburgh firms had little experience in optical glass, especially
of this size, and none would consider making the blank.

Having been rebuffed in Pittsburgh, he approached the Standard Plate
Glass Company of Butler, Pennsylvania. Plate glass making, at least
profitable plate glass making, was new in America and the Standard was
one of the newer companies. Moreover, it was reputed one of the best
plate glass makers in the country. Peate wrote to H. C. Tilton, general
manager of the plant, asking him for a disc of glass without bubble
or flaw 62 inches in diameter and 7 inches thick. He further advised
him that he would see him in a few days. Tilton’s experience and that
of his top supervisors was limited to the business of making ordinary
plate glass. Therefore, he sought advice as to the feasibility of this
fantastic project. He consulted George Howard, maintenance engineer of
the plant, who had graduated from Cornell only a year before. George
Howard, later to become noted as an inventor of glassmaking machinery,
was at this time simply an optimistic young engineer.

“Howard, here’s a man at Greenville who wants us to cast him a disc 62
inches in diameter and 7 inches thick. Is that possible?”

Howard calculated the cubical contents of the proposed disc and replied
that it was just barely possible. He didn’t see any particular difficulty
in it. He thought the first few attempts might fail but felt that they
could cast it successfully. Howard was later to ascribe his success more
to his optimism and ignorance, rather than to any particular innovation
he made. After being reassured by Howard, Tilton continued “Well, this
Dr. Peate is coming down here tomorrow and he wants a quotation. How much
do you think we ought to ask?”

“We’ll have some special apparatus to make and some experimenting to do.
Then we’ll probably lose two or three pots of glass. I think you’d better
ask him $800.” Howard thought that this was plenty. Tilton, however, was
more cautious and doubled the price. Peate arrived in Butler on schedule.
When Tilton named his price, Peate, of course, agreed instantly. Tilton
was somewhat shocked and probably would have been more so had he known
what St. Goubain had asked. At any rate the contract was placed with
Standard, apparently in October 1894.

Having obtained a maker for his disc Peate immediately began making
arrangements to prepare the disc. He contracted with the machine shop of
a John Hodge for the tools with which the mirror would be worked. This
small firm, The Hodge Manufacturing Co., employed only four men besides
the owner. Among these was Frank A’Hearn, then just a boy, who became
the prime source for details of the tools used by Peate in this work.
Starting in November 1894 notes such as, “worked for Dr. Peate 3½ hours”
begin to appear in his workbook.[28]

[Illustration: FIGURE 12.—Hodge’s method of cutting the checker grooves.
(From Preston, fig. 6.)]

The Hodge company made several (probably three) grinding tools for Peate.
One was about 12 inches in diameter, and was to be used by hand. Two
of the larger tools were provided with the male member of a ball and
socket joint and were to be power driven. They were 30 and 48 inches in
diameter, respectively. The largest was grooved to a waffle-like surface
on its convex face. These grooves were about ½ inch wide and 3/16 inch
deep. This pattern was ground by placing the tool face up on a wheeled
buggy, which rode on cambered oak rails. As it was pushed along the
length of the rail the grinding wheel on the radius arm cut one groove.
When the groove had been cut, the radius arm was moved 2 inches along a
line shaft and another groove cut. When all the grooves had been cut in
one direction the tool was turned 90 degrees on the buggy and the other
set of grooves was ground. The grinding of this tool took many weeks, and
making the tools and apparatus for Peate may have kept Hodge busy for
nearly six months.[29]

[Illustration: FIGURE 13.—Face of largest grinding tool made by Hodge for
Peate. (From Preston, fig. 5b.)]

The history of Peate’s 62-inch mirror probably would have remained as
obscure as that of his others except for the furor which arose over
casting the disc. The Erie Conference made no attempt to publicize this
project, and both Hodge Manufacturing and Standard Plate Glass accepted
Dr. Peate’s contracts as somewhat unusual but hardly newsworthy jobs. But
when the glass trade became aware of Standard’s intention to cast this
disc, a mighty outcry arose. Instead of encouraging Standard to complete
this novel task the _National Glass Budget_, one of the leading trade
journals, reviled them as “bumpkins” for attempting something that even
the great glassmakers of Europe would not do.

It is hard to imagine why the trade journal so strenuously objected
to Standard’s attempt. It has been suggested that it derived from the
fact that Standard Plate Glass just previous to that time had refused
to join in a combination of Pittsburgh companies which had set up a
glass trust.[30] Or it is possible that the young industry was afraid
that an overly ambitious project doomed to failure might open American
glassmaking to European ridicule and so harm the entire American
industry. Whatever the reason, the _Budget_ ridiculed Standard Plate
Glass, and later Dr. Peate, for the attempt. They argued that it could
not be done, but that if it were possible Pittsburgh would be the logical
place to try it. Criticism and unfavorable comment came from other
sources also, including “university professors from Meadville” (evidently
Allegheny College).[31] Nonetheless, Standard Plate Glass started the

George Howard was in charge of the casting operation. He planned to use
the glass from a pot regularly used in the routine manufacture of plate
glass. However, certain modifications were introduced in the procedure.
The glass was to be poured on the traveling casting table, upon which was
placed a circular mold made up of two semicircles of a special charcoal
iron obtained from Philadelphia. This iron was not apt to generate
bubbles of gas when in contact with the molten glass.

The iron mold was hinged at one joint of the semicircles, and the other
joint was bolted. After the cast was poured it would be allowed to cool
somewhat. When it was judged cool enough, it would be pushed into a kiln
to be annealed. After it had remained in the kiln a certain length of
time—again based simply on judgement—a quantity of pre-heated sand was
to be poured over the mold as insulation. A further innovation was the
use of a zinc sheet placed on the underside of the mold to avoid the
possibility of trouble from grease on the casting table. This was the
initial plan of operation.

Sometime early in 1895 the first attempt was made. It was an immediate
failure. The zinc sheet, intended to protect the cast from grease,
volatilized when the molten glass was poured on it, bubbled up through
the glass, and, of course, ruined the cast.

The second attempt was evidently made sometime in March. The casting
itself was successful. Sand had been substituted for the zinc sheet.
The cast was placed in the kiln, and when it was thought to be set the
insulating sand was poured over it. After a time variously estimated at
from 4 to 11 days, the cast was considered sufficiently annealed, and was

When the sand was removed, the disc was found in fragments. There was
also a large concavity in what would have been the face of the disc.
The sand had been poured over it before the glass was sufficiently set.
However, the disc had been destroyed by its iron mold. The mold had
contracted against the disc, bending the bolt and deforming the hinges,
and this tremendous pressure had shattered the glass. The next issue
of the trade paper jubilantly noted the failures. They also included
Dr. Peate in their derision. They said in effect that at least this
experience would save the old preacher the waste of many years of time
and effort.[32]

This slur on their most esteemed citizen brought the Greenville papers
into the battle. The _Budget_ had also made the mistake of implying that
any number of Pittsburgh manufacturers were willing and able to make
the disc. John Morrison, at that time editor of the Greenville _Advance
Argus_, and source of much of our information regarding this controversy,
immediately called the bluff of the trade paper, which was able to supply
but one name, that of a George A. McBeth Company. This firm promptly
declined without qualification. Later the name of the Phillips Semner
Co. was given, and this firm guaranteed a perfect disc within 60 days
for a “remunerative price,” but would not state what this price was.[33]
Therefore Dr. Peate could not deal with the firm.

Although the hue and cry continued for a few more weeks, the battle was
really over, for Howard was soon to cast his disc. He had replaced the
iron bolts in his mold with bolts of red oak dipped in nitric acid and
then charred. The purpose of this was to relieve the strain on the glass
by having the wooden pegs break as the mold contracted.

The third cast was in the kiln and in process of being annealed when
Howard read in the _Budget_ an article that set forth the difficulties
of successfully casting optical glass. This article was anonymous and
was obviously the work of an expert; it is thought to have been written
by John Brashear.[34] Although Howard was thoroughly discouraged by this
article, the cast had already been made and no harm could be done now by
allowing it to cool and be examined.

In May 1895 Howard, with the workmen, opened the kiln. The mold was
loose, so the pegs had sheared as expected. When the sand was removed
the disc was found to be whole. A close inspection revealed no obvious
faults. The disc was gently carried to an inspection room and Dr. Peate
was immediately sent for. He arrived, examined the disc for a moment,
then said, “Give me a hammer.” Before anyone could move he seized a
nearby hatchet and knocked off the sprue, or tail left as the pot was
removed from the mold. The onlookers feared the lens would “explode,” as
predicted by its detractors, but the only result was the removal of the
tail, as Dr. Peate expected.[35]

The _Budget_ was still saying it couldn’t be done. Commenting on a May
1, 1895, announcement of the removal of the disc from the kiln, the
paper seized on the fact that the disc was still warm to predict that it
would be shattered before Peate could examine it, and reiterated its low
opinion of Standard Plate. By the time this issue was in the hands of its
readers however, the disc had been inspected and approved by Peate.

Newspapers in Pittsburgh and elsewhere carried the news of the great
American disc. The embarrassed _Budget_ replied that it was not talking
about the mere casting of the disc but the completion of the mirror. It
feigned surprise that this was all that was to be done in Butler. Even as
late as May 24, 1895, the _Butler Democratic Herald_ was still defending
its town. It concluded an editorial on the issue thus:

    … we have a feeling he [The _Budget_] has set his foot in it
    when he goes to poke fun at the Standard about casting the
    biggest mold on earth, and the end of it may be a repetition of
    the old saw “he who laughs last laughs best.”

A week before this, however, the success of this casting had been made
more or less official by an announcement to that effect in the May 17,
1895, issue of _Science_, a publication of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science and probably the most highly regarded
scientific paper of the time.

[Illustration: FIGURE 14.—Surfacing machine used by Peate. (From Preston,
fig. 4.)]

On June 1, 1895, Standard Plate rendered Peate an invoice, not for
$1600, but for $450. Evidently their work was done at cost. The disc was
now removed to Greenville where Dr. Peate had erected a shop to grind,
polish, and figure it. As the disc was slightly out of round the first
operation was to make it perfectly circular. Peate did this roughly
by spalling off pieces of the edge with his bricklayer’s hammer. The
final rounding was done with the aid of the iron hoops that had made the
mold. Dr. Peate fed steel shot between the edge of the disc and the iron
semicircles. He rotated the disc on the turntable and thus rounded it off.

After this had been done he commenced the rough grinding. Using the large
checkerboard tool, steel shot, and levigated emery Dr. Peate ground out
a rough hollow. This took only a few days. George Howard stated that the
depth of the concavity was about ⅝ inch and the shape correct to within
about 1/10,000 inch. The calculated concavity of the mirror would be
6/10 inch. Peate evidently used the usual method in polishing the large
mirror, that is, he covered the tool face with pitch and used rouge (iron
oxide) as the abrasive. This method had been used for many years before
this time and is still in use today.

The figuring, which consists of removing high spots to achieve a truly
parabolic contour, probably took the longest time to complete. A mirror
must be continually tested as this polishing is being done, and since
the polishing warms the glass and distorts its shape, it is necessary to
allow a long time for the glass to cool before it can be tested. Peate
estimated that polishing and figuring the mirror took 750 hours.[36]

We do not have a really accurate account of how he tested the mirror.
Unfortunately none of the eyewitnesses to these tests had any knowledge
of optics or of standard testing procedure. The information of those who
had such knowledge is all at least secondhand and sometimes even more
remote. J. W. Fecker, successor to Brashear,[37] who was one of a group
that examined the mirror in 1923, states that Peate did not use the knife
edge test but that he did use a pin with a hole in its head in one of the
tests used at that time.

A variety of different tests and diversions with the mirror have been
reported. Dr. Peate would entertain visitors in various ways. One of
these was to train the mirror on an apple orchard in a valley a few miles
away. In another Peate would pull out one of his whiskers and hang it
on a fence nearly a quarter of a mile away. Peate himself tells of the
time spent in testing the mirror, but does not go into detail about the
procedure. He does mention a testing table that stood about 75 feet away
from the revolving table on which the mirror rested. He says further that
the mirror was tested “in all ways known, in the shop and on a pin and a
watch dial a thousand feet distant.” Of these only the pin test seems to
have been a conventional one.[38]

After the polishing, the mirror was silvered. Said Peate: “It was
silvered and tried on the heavens in the starless region under Corvus,
and under the very imperfect management of the mirror on telescopic
stars, the report was as good as could be expected.”[39] Dr. Peate must
have spent some time testing it on the stars. The mirror was evidently
completed sometime late in summer of 1897, and when Peate was satisfied
that it was as perfect as possible, he made arrangements to send it to
American University. He also designed the shipping case to protect it
on the trip to Washington. It is described in the University paper as

    This consists of a box in which the glass is packed and a
    wheeled truck in which it is swung. It is swung on its edge
    by iron bands, which go around it over an iron belt which
    encircles it.

After waiting for the case, he encountered a further delay by reason of
the fact that the express company had no office at Greenville. However
the great glass finally was loaded on the train, and on August 24, 1898,
it arrived safely at American University.

Although all parties concerned in this project seemed optimistic, no
provision for mounting the mirror had yet been made. The University paper
which announced the safe arrival of the glass hoped, at a later date,

    some day, we trust before long, a noble and generous giver will
    appear, who will provide for the proper mounting of this mirror
    and also build a worthy housing.

This donor was never to appear. Five years later, in announcing the
death of Peate, the _Courier_ was still appealing for funds to mount
the mirror. Late in 1903 it announced that a gentleman in Pennsylvania
would contribute $100,000 to defray the cost of an observatory to house
the mirror, but nothing further was ever heard of this gentleman.
Earlier, before the mirror had been made, the Reverend H. G. Sedgwick of
Nashville, Tennessee, had offered to mount and equip the mirror on the
same terms under which Peate had made it. That is, he would do the work
if someone would donate the cost and the material. But of this offer,
too, nothing further was heard. Possibly he died before the mirror was

[Illustration: FIGURE 15.—The 62-inch telescope reflector disc (USNM
310899), cast by Standard Plate Glass Company, April 20, 1895, and
figured by John Peate. It weighs 2500 pounds. Shown here as it hangs in
its protective crate, this clear green glass mirror will be a feature
of the exhibit of optics and astronomy now being prepared for the
Smithsonian’s new Museum of History and Technology, scheduled to open
soon after 1962. (_Smithsonian photo 41172_)]

The mirror was to remain untouched for some 24 years. In 1922 the
“Greenville Roundtable,” a group reportedly founded by Dr. Peate,
allocated $90 to the Reverend H. G. Dodds to investigate the disposition
of the mirror. In that same year the Erie Conference appointed Dodds a
committee of one to report on the same matter. Dodds visited American
University and conferred with the chancellors. They checked the mirror
and it seemed to be in good shape. Dodds then went to Warner and Swasey,
in Cleveland, Ohio, where he attempted to discover what it would cost
to mount the mirror and provide an observatory. But he learned nothing
there. Dodds knew nothing either of astronomy or of glass and his lack
of knowledge did not inspire confidence in his mission. He did note a
peculiar phenomenon, that people seemed suspicious of the mirror in
itself without knowing anything about its actual condition.[41]

Shortly after Dodds’ failure to secure a user for the mirror the Perkins
Observatory at Ohio Wesleyan University, which planned to add a large
reflecting telescope, became interested in it. Dr. Clifford C. Crump,
director of the Perkins Observatory, J. W. Fecker, then president of the
J. W. Fecker Company, and A. N. Finn and A. Q. Tool, of the National
Bureau of Standards, inspected the glass at American University. They
found it remarkably free of bubbles and similar defects. Due to a lack
of facilities they were unable to test the mirror optically, so that
no comment was made on either the polishing or the correctness of the
figure. It was, however, found badly strained due to poor annealing, and
Fecker advised against using it, as it would have to be re-annealed.
If this were done, some refiguring would also be necessary. After this
rather expensive renovation it would remain a rather thin, flexible glass
and not equal to modern standards. The Perkins Observatory consequently
decided rather to use a mirror cast and finished under the supervision of
the Bureau of Standards.[42]

This was the last attempt to use the mirror. It remained at American
University until the mid 30’s, when it was placed in the Smithsonian
Institution. It was still, in February 1935, the largest mirror ever cast
and polished in the United States.

Let us return now to Dr. Peate. After seeing the mirror safely stored
at American University he returned to Greenville, Pennsylvania. Then 78
years old, still in good health and very active, he was to live for 5
more years.

To the end of his life he maintained his interest in astronomy, and
was optimistic about the possibility of his great mirror eventually
being mounted and used. In 1900 at the age of 80 he decided to see
Europe once again. His prime objective on this trip was undoubtedly
the Paris Exposition of 1900, where one of the main attractions was a
huge telescope made by Gautier. It had a refracting objective of 49.2
inches, mounted horizontally, the largest refractor yet made. Strangely
enough this much publicized telescope was never used either. After the
exposition was over the backers became bankrupt and the instrument was
dismantled and sold for scrap.

Dr. Peate with his wide range of knowledge and his conversational ability
delighted and puzzled his fellow passengers on the boat to and from
Europe. They guessed that he was an educator, a scientist, or statesman
but he denied all this saying, “no, I’m only a bricklayer.”

Dr. Peate lived three years after this trip, dying on March 24, 1903.
His good health and physical vigor never left him till almost the moment
of his death; as shortly as a week before, he had conducted a funeral

It would be rather easy to dismiss him as a harmless fanatic except that
everything known of him indicates that he was not. It is reasonable
to believe that his mirrors were made more in the hope than in the
certain expectation that they would stimulate the study of astronomy
in the institutions receiving them. He was probably well aware of the
difficulties of establishing so large a telescope at a newly founded
institution such as American University, and, content in the knowledge
that he had done his part, could only hope that others might be inspired
to do likewise.

Dr. Peate’s great mirror will shortly be put to use in a manner that
could hardly have been predicted by its maker. It has been in the
Smithsonian Institution for over 20 years. The huge glass will form a
part of the exhibition of optics and astronomy in the new Museum of
History and Technology that the Smithsonian Institution will open to the
public about 1962. There it will be seen by some millions of persons each
year. Because of its spectacular size it should catch the attention of
most museum visitors. Surely it will awaken in more than one potentially
able worker an interest in astronomy. If so, it will have accomplished
Dr. Peate’s purpose.


[1] Instruments surviving from 18th-century America are almost
exclusively of European origin, products of the numerous and famous
shops which sprang up, particularly in England and France, to meet the
demand occasioned by the popularity of the telescope among amateurs and

[2] U.S. National Museum catalog nos. 152078 and 152079.

[3] W. I. Milham, _Early American Observatories_, Williamstown, Mass.,
Williams College, 1938.

[4] _Mechanics Magazine_, 1830, vol. 13, pp. 114-115 and frontispiece.

[5] See p. 184 for a list of Holcomb’s instruments in the U.S. National

[6] H. C. King, _The History of the Telescope_, London, Charles Griffin,
1955, pp. 246-248. Milham _op. cit._ (footnote 3), p. 10.

[7] As reported in the _Journal of the Franklin Institute_ for July 1834,
new ser. vol 14 (whole no. 18), pp. 169-172; July 1835, new ser. vol.
16 (whole no. 20), pp. 11-13; and August 1836, new ser. vol. 18 (whole
no. 22), p. 110. The first two of these are given in the appendix, pp.

[8] Reported by “R. K. M.” in _Sky and Telescope_, March 1942, vol. 1,
p. 21. The “Catalog of Objectives Made by Henry Fitz,” the time span of
which is unspecified, lists 428 objectives up to 13 inches and only 6
mirrors. It is not clear, however, that these represent finished units.

[9] Langley’s work at the Allegheny Observatory, particularly his
invention of the bolometer, brought him international reknown as a
scientist. In January 1887 he was appointed assistant secretary of
the Smithsonian Institution, and later in that year became its third
Secretary, serving from 1887-1906.

[10] The giant mirrors of Herschel (1789) and Rosse (1842) were made
of an alloy of 71% copper and 29% tin, and 68½% copper and 31½% tin,
respectively. This alloy was known as “speculum metal.” The silvered
glass mirror was pioneered by Steinhill and Foucault in 1856. In England
Dr. A. A. Common made considerable use in the 1870’s of silvered glass
mirrors made by George Calver. About 1892-97 Common himself made, but
never finished, a 60-inch mirror. It was later refigured and is still in

On these matters see King, _op. cit._ (footnote 6).

[11] For a list of these, see appendix, p. 184.

[12] Words crossed out in manuscript. See figure 1.

[13] For a list of Fitz material in the U.S. National Museum, see
appendix, p. 184.

[14] F. W. Preston, “The first big American telescope mirror, John Peate,
his lens,” _Bulletin of the American Ceramic Society_, 1936, vol. 15, pp.
129-152. Hereafter cited as Preston.

[15] The circumstances of Peate’s life and ministerial career are from
Preston, supplemented by Dr. Peate’s service record, provided by the
Erie Conference of the Methodist Church. Dr. Preston’s prime sources
are: J. N. Fradenburgh, _History of the Erie Conference_, Oil City, Pa.,
1907, vol. 2, pp. 204-211; obituary notice by R. N. Stubbs in _Minutes
of the Erie Conference_, pl. publ. 1903, p. 90. Other data were obtained
by Preston through interviews and letters, all cited in detail in the

[16] From information provided by Robert Barr, acting secretary of
Oberlin College, February 15, 1960. The college records show a John
Peate from Buffalo enrolled in the preparatory department in 1842-43
and 1844-45. The _Encyclopedia Americana_ (1924 ed., vol. 21, p. 460)
states that Peate attended Oberlin about this time. The Doctorate was an
honorary one conferred by Allegheny College.

[17] Fradenburgh, _op. cit._ (footnote 2), p. 204.

[18] Preston, p. 130, n. 10; p. 131, n. 19; p. 148.

[19] “On the Construction of a Silvered Glass Telescope, Fifteen and
a Half Inches in Aperture, and its Use in Celestial Photography,”
_Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge_, vol. 14, art. 3, iv+55 pp.,
1865 (reprinted in vol. 34 as art. 2, 1904).

[20] Preston, p. 148. From an article in the Greenville, Pa., _Record
Argus_, December 17, 1903.

[21] Preston, p. 148. In 1960 it was further learned that an “American
Temperance” college or university once existed at Harriman.

[22] _Scientific American_, October 24, 1891, vol. 65, p. 260.

[23] Communication from Thiel College, Preston, p. 131, n. 17.

[24] _Popular Astronomy_, July 1898, vol. 6, p. 310.

[25] Preston, p. 129, notes 2 & 3. Based on recollections of George
Lambert (1895) and John Morrison (1903). That the decision to make the
mirror 62 inches in diameter may have had another origin is suggested
by the fact that Common, in England, had made two mirrors of 60 and 61
inches in 1886-91.

[26] Minutes of the Erie Conference, 1893, p. 29. Preston, p. 130, n. 4.

[27] Preston has reconstructed the story of the making of the 62-inch
mirror from contemporary journals, which will be cited below, and from
personal communications with some of the participants, notably George
Howard and George Lambert. Detailed citation of these communications are
given in Preston. He has also used a brief manuscript account by Peate
himself (Preston, p. 142, n. 62).

[28] Communication with Frank A’Hearn and John Hodge. Preston, p. 135.

[29] Peate’s workshop and apparatus is described in detail by Preston,
pp. 135-138.

[30] Preston, p. 139.

[31] _Advance Argus_, Greenville, Pa., May 9, 1895. Preston, p. 139.

[32] Clipping of uncertain date from the _Pittsburgh Leader_, quoting the
_National Glass Budget_. Preston, p. 139 and n. 55.

[33] Preston, p. 140.

[34] Preston, p. 139.

[35] Preston, p. 140.

[36] Preston, p. 142.

[37] The Brashear Instrument Company, after the death of its founder John
Brashear, became the J. W. Fecker Company, Inc. This concern is now a
division of the American Optical Company.

[38] Preston, pp. 142-143.

[39] The mirror is no longer silvered. The silver surface was apparently
removed during the inspection by the Bureau of Standards in the 1920’s.

[40] Preston, p. 144. Various notices were published in the _American
University Courier_ in 1898.

[41] Preston, pp. 145-146.

[42] Preston, p. 146.



_Report on Amasa Holcomb’s Reflecting Telescope._

[From _Journal of the Franklin Institute_, July 1834, new ser. vol. 14
(whole no. 18), pp. 169-172.]

    The Committee on Science and the Arts, constituted by the
    Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the
    promotion of the Mechanic Arts, to whom was referred for
    examination a Reflecting Telescope, manufactured by Mr. Amasa
    Holcomb, of Southwick, Hampden county, Massachusetts,


That the following is the description of the instrument as given by Mr.

    “The telescope submitted to the examination of the Committee
    of the Franklin Institute is of the reflecting kind; has a
    focal length of six feet; the diameter of the speculum is three
    inches nine-tenths; the rays of light are reflected but once;
    the image formed in the focus of the speculum is viewed by a
    common astronomical eye piece, or by a single lens; it has
    also an eye piece for viewing land objects, which shows them
    erect. The telescope is of the same construction as those of
    Sir William Herschell, the observer having his back towards
    the object and looking directly towards the speculum. It has
    an advantage over those of the Gregorian and Newtonian forms,
    by showing the object brighter with the same aperture, there
    being no light lost by a second reflection. The diameter of
    the speculum is small in proportion to the length of the
    instrument; it will bear a diameter of eight inches, with much
    advantage for viewing very small stars, in consequence of the
    great increase of the light.

    The magnifying powers that are used are, forty, ninety, and two
    hundred and fifty.”

Through the politeness of Prof. A. D. Bache, the committee were permitted
to compare the performance of Mr. Holcomb’s reflector with that of a
five feet achromatic, of four inches aperture, by Dolland, the property
of the University of Pennsylvania. The instrument was also compared with
a three and a half feet achromatic, by Dolland, and with a Gregorian of
four inches aperture, the mirrors of which had been lately repolished
in London. The short stay of Mr. Holcomb in Philadelphia, prevented the
comparison of it with reflectors in the possession of other members of
the committee.

On the evening of the 14th of April, the committee met by adjournment in
the open lot south of the Pennsylvania Hospital, the use of which was
politely permitted to the committee by the managers of that institution.

The following were the results of the comparisons:—

The moon, nearly full, was at a height to be conveniently viewed with
the lower powers of the instruments: with a power of 350 in the five
feet achromatic, the moon appeared bright and well defined,—with the
same eye-piece, giving a power of 400, in the reflector by Mr. Holcomb,
the moon was sufficiently bright, and equally well defined. The same,
with the exception that the moon was more brilliant, and the field of
view much greater, was remarked with the use of Mr. Holcomb’s highest
magnifier, giving a power of two hundred and fifty.

As an illustration of their comparative performances, it was remarked
that the waved appearance of the outer declivities of the craters of some
of the apparently extinct lunar volcanoes, indicating the successive
depositions of the lava, was more manifest with a power of four hundred
in the reflector.

The immersions of 3 and 4 Geminorum of the sixth and seventh magnitude,
were observed at the same instant of time in each.

The same occurred the evening before with a star of the eighth or ninth

The immersions, however, of two very small stars, apparently of the tenth
or eleventh magnitude, were observed with difficulty in the refractor,
but could not be observed at all in the reflector.

The comparison of Polaris was best seen when the moon was up in the
refractor, but in the absence of the moon it was readily seen in both.

Castor was easily divided with the lower powers of either, but in the
case of this, as well as of other binary and double stars, the dark space
between the stars was less disturbed by scattering rays in the reflector
than in the refractor.

ε Bootes was seen double in each, but more distinctly in the reflector, μ
Draconis, γ Leonis, and 4th and 5th ε Lyra, were seen distinctly double
in both instruments; μ Draconis, from the equality of the disks and
softness of light, presented the finest appearance.

γ Virginis, with a power of three hundred and fifty in either telescope,
gave no certain indications of being double. Some of the members of the
committee were of opinion that it was slightly elongated.

It was stated by the artist that his reflector would divide stars distant
3″ from each other.

Estimating the distance of the stars observed by the late observations of
South, Struve, and Herschel, jr., the committee were of opinion that his
instrument is adequate to the distinct division of double stars distant
from each other 2″.5.

The motion of this instrument, plainly mounted, was steady, and with the
finder, even without rack work, objects were easily made to range with
the centre, or line of collimation of the instrument.

The position of the observers with the Herschelian telescope, was natural
and easy in contemplating objects having seventy or eighty degrees
of altitude, though quite constrained and inconvenient in using the

The reflector gave a distinct view of land objects, even when within
one-fourth of a mile.

Some light was lost by the position of the head, an inconvenience
partially obviated by making the end nearest the object three inches
greater in aperture.

The Gregorian, which probably was not a very fine instrument of its kind,
bore no comparison in distinctness, or in quantity of light, with the
Herschelian telescope.

From these trials, the committee are of opinion that Mr. Holcomb has been
entirely successful in the difficult art of polishing specula with the
true curve, which gives to the objects viewed all the distinctness of
figure that is given them by the best refractors by Dolland.

In one respect, the largeness of the field of view, the reflectors by
Mr. Holcomb have a decided advantage over achromatics and reflectors of
different construction. The apparent diameter of the field of view in
the Herschelian being nearly double that of either, with equal freedom
from aberration. The quantity of light furnished by the refractor was
greater with the same aperture, an important advantage in searching
for, and observing very minute objects. This deficiency of light in the
Herschelian for viewing faint objects near the moon, or satellites near
their primaries, the committee are of opinion may be removed by enlarging
the aperture of the Herschelian reflector to five or five and a half

The simplicity of the method of preparing and mounting Mr. Holcomb’s
telescopes is worthy of notice, since on this plan, the artist is enabled
to furnish for an expense of one hundred dollars, with plain mounting,
or of one hundred and fifty to two hundred dollars, with more expensive
mounting, telescopes whose performance equals that of Gregorians and
achromatics hitherto imported into the country at an expense of five
hundred dollars.

By order of the committee.

                                             WILLIAM HAMILTON, _Actuary_.

_May 8th, 1834._

_Report on Holcomb’s Reflecting Telescopes._

[From _Journal of the Franklin Institute_, July 1835, new ser. vol. 16
(whole no. 20), pp. 11-13]

    The Committee on Science and the Arts, constituted by the
    Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the
    promotion of the Mechanic Arts, to whom was referred for
    examination, two reflecting telescopes, made by Mr. Amasa
    Holcomb, of Southwick, Hampden county, Massachusetts,


That the following description of these telescopes is given by Mr.

    The two reflecting telescopes now submitted by the subscriber,
    are constructed on the plan of Sir William Herschel, having
    the front view. The largest has a focal length of 9½ feet;
    the diameter of the speculum is 8½ inches, and has five
    astronomical eye-pieces, and one terrestrial eye-piece, for
    showing objects erect; the lowest power is 57, the highest
    900. The smallest has a focal length of 7 feet 9 inches; the
    diameter of the speculum is 6½ inches, and has one terrestrial,
    and four astronomical, eye-pieces; the lowest power is 60, the
    highest is 600. They are of the same kind as those that were
    submitted a year ago, except the manner of mounting, which is
    very different.

                                                     AMASA HOLCOMB.

On the evening of the 4th of May, the committee met, by appointment,
in an open lot south of the Pennsylvania Hospital, for the purpose of
testing the performance of the telescopes, which had previously been
tried by some of the members of the committee, and by other gentlemen,
on the evening of the 2d. The result of the examination was highly
creditable to Mr. Holcomb, and cannot fail to gratify all who have at
heart the advancement of astronomical science in this country.

The instruments, with powers varying from 50 to 600 in the smaller,
and to 900 in the larger, gave satisfactory views of the moon with a
sufficiency of light.

Mr. Holcomb’s ability to manufacture telescopes which should bear a
comparison, on favourable terms, with the best four and five feet
achromatics now in the country, having been established by the report
of the committee in May, 1834, their attention was chiefly directed to
ascertaining the degree of perfection to which he has attained in his
art, by his persevering efforts during the past year. Accordingly, the
remarks which follow are made with reference to the larger telescope, of
about ten feet focal length, eight inches aperture, and with a positive
eye-piece, giving a power of about 900, and the surface of the field of
view nearly twice as great as that of a Gregorian, and one-third greater
than that of an achromatic telescope, under similar circumstances.

The view of the moon with its rugged surface, its ridges of mountains,
and the endless variety of indentations on its surface, was interesting
beyond description, and exceeded any thing of the kind the committee have
ever witnessed.

Saturn’s ring, though not in a favourable position, was seen manifestly
double, for the first time in this country, as far as the information of
the committee extends.

The companion of Polaris appeared as a star of the fourth or fifth
magnitude, to the unassisted eye.

The double stars, Castor, μ Draconis, 4 and 5 ε Lyræ, and 44 Bootes, were
distinctly separated, and the dark space between them made evident. The
last mentioned, consisting of two stars of the fifth magnitude, distant
3″ made a fine appearance; they were soft, and well defined, and there
were no scattering rays of light, as was the case with Castor, in both

A class of closer doubles stars, of which 6 Coronæ, distant 1″.2., and
ζ Bootes, distant 1″.4., may serve as examples, was acknowledged by
the artist, last year, to be too difficult for his telescope. This has
furnished a stimulus for his exertions, and the complete division of the
latter, as witnessed by the committee on the present occasion, has been
the reward of his disinterested labours. The discs of the two stars in
ζ Bootes appeared to be tangent to each other. The committee have no
evidence that the same has been effected by any other telescope in the

For the purpose of finding the limit to the power of Mr. Holcomb’s
telescope, the committee called his attention to a class of still closer
stars; among them were mentioned, ζ Cancri, μ2 Bootes, ῎ Coronæ, 36
Andromedæ, and ε Arietis, the last of which is only divisible by two
telescopes now in use, viz.: the Dorpat telescope, and the twenty
foot reflector of Sir John Herschel. These stars, distant from 0″.6.
to 1″.0., are made to appear with their discs tangent to each other in
those celebrated instruments, as appears by their notes appended to the
observations contained in their printed catalogues. It is almost needless
to add, that Mr. Holcomb acknowledged these stars to be too difficult for
any telescopes he has yet made.

It may seem presumptuous to compare the small instrument of Holcomb with
the chefs d’oeuvre of British and German genius; but, thanks to the
admirable labours of the Herschels, of Struve, and of South, observers
are enabled, through their printed catalogues, to compare together the
optical capacities of their telescopes in distant regions. Accordingly
it appears from an examination of these catalogues, and of Holcomb’s
instruments, that what the best telescopes in Europe can do upon stars
distant 0″.6., can be done upon stars distant 1″.4., by instruments which
are the work of an unassisted, and almost neglected, American optician.

Judging from the progress made in his art, by Mr. Holcomb, during the
past year, the committee look forward, with confident expectation, to the
not far distant period, when, should his health be spared, the country
will be in possession of a twenty feet reflector, of native workmanship,
rivalling the best European instruments, and that, too, without the
patronage of any corporate institution, should all of them be willing to
waive the opportunity of sharing with him the merit of such an enterprise.

The committee have been led to enlarge upon this subject, from a
knowledge that one of our national institutions has, within a few
years, imported into the country, at an expense of $2,500, a telescope
which, though excellent in its kind, is inferior to that exhibited by
Mr. Holcomb, which was made and mounted to order for an individual in
Georgia, at less than the eighth part of the above mentioned sum. It is
not probable that a twenty foot instrument from Mr. Holcomb, would cost
eight times as much as one of the length of ten feet.

The mode of mounting the instrument appears to be original, and nothing
can exceed it in simplicity, or steadiness. Indeed, with a power of
900, no inconvenience was perceived from resting with one hand on the
frame, and another on the tube, although the same could not be done
with the mounting used by Mr. Holcomb last year, or with that of common
achromatics with a power of 200, without serious inconvenience.

In conclusion, the committee beg leave to recommend Mr. Holcomb to the
Board of Managers of the Franklin Institute, as a candidate for a premium
and medal from the Scott’s legacy fund, for his new mode of mounting
reflecting telescopes.

By order of the committee.

                                             WILLIAM HAMILTON, _Actuary_.

_May 14th, 1835._


(United States National Museum catalog number shown at right)


(All items from Mrs. Grace E. Holcomb Steere and Mrs. Eva C. Holcomb

    1. Undated and unsigned original autobiographical
       sketch, ink on notepaper (as
       published here, p. 160)

    2. Manuscript notebook on meteorological
       and astronomical matters, covering the
       period 1834-41.                                 310600

    3. Herschelean reflecting telescope, 8½-inch
       aperture, 9 feet 4 inches long. This is the
       telescope made by Holcomb and shown at
       the Franklin Institute in 1835.                 310598

    4. Refracting telescope, 1½-inch aperture,
       21 inches long, on 14-inch axis for use as a
       transit telescope, without support.             310599


(Item 1 from Mr. L. C. Eichner, items 2-4 from Mrs. Julia Fitz Howell,
item 5 from Mr. Arthur V. A. Fitz)

    1. Refracting telescope, comet seeker, 8¼-inch
       aperture, 61-inch wooden tube, fitted
       for equatorial mounting, but without mount.     317027

    2. Machines, tools, and partially completed
       instruments from the shop of Henry Fitz,
       of which the major pieces are:

         Lens grinding machine                         315152
         Lens polishing machine                        315153
         Lens edging and testing machine               315151

    3. Manuscript notebook of Fitz accounts from
       1851 to 1855.                                   317026 (2)

    4. Manuscript “Catalogue of Objectives made
       by Henry Fitz.”                                 317026 (2)

    5. Refracting telescope, 5-section draw, marked
       “Ta. Long, Royal Exchange, London,”
       2⅛-inch objective, 42½ inches long, open.
       Purchased in London by Fitz in 1839. The
       present objective was made by Fitz.             316706


(From The American University)

    1. Mirror, glass, unsilvered, 62-inch diameter,
       about 6 inches thick.                           310899


For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing
Office Washington 25, D.C.—Price 30 cents

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This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
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including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.