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SERIES Identifier: KG11365-6

Early Work of the HCO under the Bond Adminstrations, 1848-1877, bulk: 1848-1866

Scope and Contents

This series contains astronomical observations and data calculations spanning the early history of the Harvard College Observatory from 1848 until 1877, though most materials date to the subsequent directorships of H.C.O. founder William Cranch Bond and then his son George Phillips Bond prior to his death 1866.

Astronomers whose work is represented in this series include: William Cranch Bond, George Phillips Bond, Richard F. Bond, Benjamin Pierce, Charles W. Tuttle, Horace P. Tuttle, Truman Henry Safford, Philip Sidney Coolidge, Asaph Hall, J.F. Flagg, William A. Rogers, Augustus McConnel, Joseph Winlock, Elias Loomis, Charles S. Pierce, Charles Henry Davis, Samuel Pierpont Langley, George M. Searle, Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, Arthur Searle, George M. Searle, Edward P. Austin, Joseph F. McCormack, Henry Gannett, and Oliver C. Wendell.


  • Creation: 1848-1877
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1848-1866



120 cubic feet (120 boxes)
2531 Volumes

Biographical / Historical

Biography of William Cranch Bond

William Cranch Bond (1789 – 1859) left school at ten years old to work in his father’s Boston shop as a clockmaker. As an amateur astronomer, Bond was the first observer in the United States to spot the Great Comet of 1811, an accomplishment which attracted the attention of scholars at Harvard University. Four years later, Bond traveled to Europe on a Harvard commission to research European observatories. After returning to Boston, Bond transformed his living room into a makeshift observatory, even while he continued his career as a professional clock-maker. His astronomical calculations for latitude and longitude were so accurate that the U.S. Navy’s 1838 exploration of the South Pacific referenced the geographic coordinates of foreign ports in relation to Bond’s house. In 1839, Josiah Quincy, then the president of Harvard University, invited Bond to move his family and his private observatory to the Dana House (now Lamont Library). Thus, Bond’s front parlor became Harvard’s de facto observatory, though he worked without pay until 1846. The Comet of 1843 incited public interested in astronomical study and Harvard raised enough funds to purchase the Great Refactor, a 15-inch telescope, which marked the official establishment of the Harvard College Observatory. Bond remained the director until his death in 1859.

Biography of George Phillips Bond

George Phillips Bond (1825 – 1865), the third son of William Cranch Bond, succeeded his father as Director of the Harvard College Observatory in 1859. Prior to the elder Bond’s death, the younger Bond worked as an assistant astronomer at the H.C.O. His later employment as Director was marked by difficulty. In the months before he accepted the position, Bond’s wife and young daughter died, as did his father. At thirty-four years old, he contracted tuberculosis, and his health gradually declined over his short tenure. The onset of the Civil War, less than two years after his appointment, resulted in a near complete loss of funding for the H.C.O. and left the building in perpetual disrepair for years. Bond kept the observatory running, and reportedly worked up until his death in 1865. Among other accomplishments, he was later called “the father of celestial photography,” though there is no known image of Bond today.

Biography of Joseph Winlock

After graduating from Shelby College in 1846, Joseph Winlock (1826 – 1875), then only nineteen years old, was invited to remain at the institution as a Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy. In 1852, Winlock moved from Kentucky to Cambridge to work as a computer for the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac. Five years later, he was appointed a Professor of Mathematics in the United States Navy, became an assistant in the Naval Observatory in Washington, and was eventually, appointed Director of the Mathematical Department at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Winlock returned to Boston and became the Superintendent of the American Ephemeris. He held that position until he was appointed Director of the Harvard College Observatory after George Phillips Bond died in 1865. As Director, Winlock is often credited with the complete re-equipment of the H.C.O. after the war, and for inventions related to instrumental astronomy.


This Series is arranged in fifteen sub-series, which contain 388 individual notebooks. The sub-series are arranged with alphabetical designators, per the original cataloguing system recorded in one notebook [M36, KG11365.283] entitled, "Account of Various Records and Papers belonging to the Observatory." The original cataloguer, assistant astronomer Truman Henry Safford, described the H.C.O's organization method as follows:

  • A: A set of MS. books marked "A" with numbers from 1-14 inclusive. Believed to contain original meridian circle observations or readings from chronograph sheets.
  • B: MS. books marked "B" with numbers from 1 to 36. These contain a copy of Series "A", up to Jan. 1, 1861.
  • C: MS. books marked "C", with numbers from 1 to 4. Relating to instrumental corrections required in using the Meridian Circle, and containing notes designated to make the chronograph sheets intelligible
  • D: MS. books marked "D", with numbers from 1 to 35. Relating to chronometric expeditions.
  • E: MS. books marked "E", with numbers from 1 to 8. Mostly meridian circle observations in which declinations were taken, and two books used by Mr. Tuttle in practicing observing.
  • F: MS. books marked "F", with numbers from 1 to 11, also 12a, 12b, and 13. Containing observations with Mr. Bond's instrument, called the West Transit - also Magnetic and Prime Vertical observations.
  • G: MS. books marked "G", with numbers 1 to 8 - also Ga, Gb. Relate to clocks and chronometers.
  • H: MS. books marked "H", with numbers from 1 to 8 (no. 9 omitted in the numbering) and from 10 to 56 - also H1, Hb. Contain Equatorial Observatiions, and Reductions, excluding Zones.
  • K: MS. books marked "K", with numbers from 1 to 28. These are said to be "books - i.e., observations" and are supposed to contain nothing but observations of zones.
  • L: MS. books marked "L", with numbers from 1 to 13. Various books relating to the reduction of the Zones.
  • M: MS. books marked "M" numbered 1 to 32. These books have various titles, including additional observations and library catalogue records. Observation books in this sub-series are frequently copies of the original records which were often made on detached pieces of paper and which were not arranged in any order.
  • N: Fifty books relating to the equatorial observations, 1866-1876, were later collected and arranged in a series marked "N", with numbering from 1 to 50.
  • O: Twenty-eight books, relating chiefly to observations for clock errors, were collected and arranged in a series marked "O", with numbers from 1 to 28.
  • P & Q: The meteorological record for 1866 and following years (including some magnetic observations made 1866 to 1868) were arragned in two series P and Q, series "P" including the original records and "Q" the copy where the reductions are make.

Related Materials

Harvard University Archives

  • Records of the Harvard College Observatory Director William Cranch Bond, 1818-1819, 1840-1864 (UAV 630.2).
  • Records of the Harvard College Observatory Director George Phillips Bond, 1851-1865 (UAV 630.6).
  • Papers of George Phillips Bond, 1851-1865 (HUG 1224.803 and HUG 1224.805).
  • Records of the Harvard College Observatory Chronometric Expedition, 1848-1875 (UAV 630.349)
Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University
  • William Bond & Son records and Bond family papers, 1724-1931 (hsi00001)
  • The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments also contains several instruments used by William Cranch Bond and his associates including astronomical regulators, chronometers, casting patterns, and clocks.

Repository Details

Part of the Wolbach Archives, Wolbach Library, Harvard University Repository

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
60 Garden Street
Cambridge MA 02138 United States