Harvard College Observatory photographs of the construction of Agassiz Station
The Harvard College Observatory photographs of the construction of Agassiz Station contains 253 black-and-white photographs documenting the building and installation of the 85-foot radio telescope and its adjoining solar laboratory at the George R. Agassiz Station located in Fort Davis, Texas from 1961 to 1962. These images depict the construction of the radio telescope at various stages; construction workers engaged in the building process, and Alan Maxwell, Harvard College Observatory solar radio astronomer and founder of the Fort Davis Radio Astronomy Station, who oversaw operations at the construction site.
- 1961-1962 and [undated]
- Harvard College Observatory (Organization)
The Harvard College Observatory photographs of Agassiz Station are open for research.
Extent0.5 cubic feet (1 extra-tall document box)
The Harvard College Observatory photographs of the construction of Agassiz Station contains 253 black-and-white photographs documenting the building and installation of the 85-foot radio telescope and its accompanying solar laboratory at the George R. Agassiz Station located in Fort Davis, Texas, from 1961 to 1962. This instrument was built to expand the station's solar monitoring program and was the second telescope to be installed at the station, the first being a 28-foot radio telescope completed in 1956, shortly after the founding of the Fort Davis Radio Astronomy Station in the same year. Harvard College Observatory astronomer Alan Maxwell oversaw the construction of the 85-foot radio telescope and is depicted in several photographs, shown handling various materials, posed next to different spaces at the construction site, near the radio telescope, and standing on the telescope's antenna. These photographs also show many unidentified construction workers engaged in a variety of jobs involved in the building of the telescope and laboratory; many of the images render these individuals in suspended positions on top of the telescope.
The photographs document several phases of the radio telescope's construction. Many of the photographs were taken during the telescope’s preliminary construction, depicting the station’s building sites, defined plots of land, and unassembled telescope parts. Other photographs show only the lower half of the radio telescope completed, while additional photographs in this series depict the final stages of construction of the radio telescope, indicated by the addition of the telescope’s antenna. These photographs track the progress of the radio telescope’s adjoining solar laboratory, showing construction workers spreading cement and working on piping, as well as documenting the installation of the building’s walls, floors, and roofing. Several photographs in this series depict various locations at Sproul Ranch in Fort Davis, presumably taken prior to the construction of the 85-foot radio telescope, where Harvard rented land to establish the George R. Agassiz Station.
One folder included in this series contains photographs from Blaw-Knox, the company hired by Harvard to manufacture parts used to build the radio telescope. These photographs document the creation of the telescope parts at a warehouse, showing presumably Blaw-Knox staff welding, working with the material, and inspecting the final products. Another folder included in this series contains photographs depicting telescopes presumably located at the Oak Ridge Observatory in Harvard, Massachusetts.
Historical note on the Harvard College Observatory
The Harvard College Observatory was founded in 1839 by the Harvard Corporation after decades of attempts to develop an observatory at Harvard University. Under the Observatory's first two directors, William Cranch Bond and his son, George Phillips Bond, the Observatory began an extensive study of the Orion Nebula and Saturn, discovering the eighth satellite of Saturn, Hyperion in 1848; and the dark inner ring of Saturn (the Crepe Ring) in 1850. Pioneers in astrophotography, the Bonds produced the first recognizable daguerreotype of the Moon and the star Vega in 1850; and the first photographic print of the Moon in 1857. The Observatory became the world's foremost producer of stellar spectra and magnitudes, established an observing station in Peru, and applied mass-production techniques to the analysis of data during the directorship of Edward C. Pickering from 1877 to 1919. Harlow Shapley, director of the Observatory in the 1950s, expanded the scope of the Observatory's galactic research tracking minor planets and asteroids in the Solar System and increasing its telescopic power with the establishment of the Oak Ridge station, also known as the George R. Agassiz Station, in Harvard, Massachusetts. In the 1960s and 1970s, Observatory directors Donald H. Menzel and Leo Goldberg maintained programs in solar and stellar astrophysics and space astronomy. In 1973, the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (founded in 1890) merged to form the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The Center is a research institute that carries on studies in astronomy, astrophysics, earth and space sciences, and science education.
Historical note on the George R. Agassiz Station
The George R. Agassiz Station was established as the Fort Davis Radio Astronomy Station in 1956 by the Harvard College Observatory, with financial assistance from the United States Air Force, and under the leadership of solar radio astronomer Alan Maxwell, in Fort Davis, Texas. The Station focused on radio bursts emanating from flares and sunspots on the solar disk. Construction of a 28-foot radio telescope at the station was completed in 1956 to monitor solar activity and record high intensity radio transmissions from solar flares. In 1961, an 85-foot radio telescope was built and expanded the station’s solar monitoring program by monitoring solar flares and surveying radio sources in the Milky Way. Beginning in March 1972, and continuing throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, the 85-foot radio telescope was implemented in a national Very Long Baseline Interferometry program that collected observations made from telescopes located across the country. In August 1982, the Fort Davis Radio Astronomy Station was officially renamed the George R. Agassiz Station of the Harvard College Observatory.
Biographical note on Alan Maxwell
Alan Maxwell (1926-2021), New Zealander solar radio astronomer, received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Auckland in 1947 and 1949 respectively. Maxwell dedicated his research to the burgeoning field of radio astronomy and is credited with writing the first master’s thesis in the field. Maxwell later earned his PhD from Manchester University in 1953, where he continued to focus his work on radio astronomy and conducted research using antennas.
Maxwell began working at the Harvard College Observatory in 1955 and founded the Observatory’s Radio Astronomy Station in Fort Davis, Texas in 1956. Maxwell developed and led the station’s solar monitoring program until 1982, which included overseeing the construction of two radio telescopes and two solar laboratories over the course of his tenure. Maxwell additionally co-discovered a new type of low-frequency solar radio burst, the “U burst,” with his assistant Govind Swarup in 1958, and worked as a founding editor of the journal Astrophysical Letters from 1967 to 1973. In addition to his work at Harvard, Maxwell was active in multiple international scientific organizations and societies, including as a fellow for the Astronomical Society and the Physical Society of London.
The archivist maintained the original order of the folders.
This series was processed by Sarah Peyer-Nelson from February-April 2023. Processing included the physical rehousing of materials and the creation of this finding aid. Folder titles were transcribed from folders; folder titles enclosed in square brackets were devised by the archivist.
- Harvard College Observatory. Harvard College Observatory photographs of the construction of Agassiz Station, 1961-1962 and [undated]: an inventory
- Harvard University Archives
- March 29, 2023
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Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository
Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.
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