Records of the Harvard College Observatory relating to photographic photometry kept by Edward S. King
Edward Skinner King (1861-1931), an astronomer, was an observer (1887-1913), assistant professor (1913-1926), and Phillips Professor of Astronomy (1926-1931) at the Harvard College Observatory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This series documents King's work in photographic photometry, a technique used in astronomy to measure the flux or intensity of light radiated by astronomical objects, at the Harvard College Observatory from 1899 to 1931.
- 1899 - 1931
- Harvard College Observatory (Organization)
Open for research.
Extent.17 cubic feet (1 document box)
This series documents Edward S. King's work in photographic photometry, a technique used in astronomy to measure the flux or intensity of light radiated by astronomical objects, at the Harvard College Observatory from 1899 to 1931. King's testing and use of photographic chemicals, dry plates, telescope lenses, optical discs, mirror lacquering, developers, and cameras are detailed in the series. King's correspondence also notes the photographic techniques other astronomers and observatories used to study the light intensity of astronomical objects. King's correspondents include astronomers John Stanley Plaskett, Frank Schlesinger, Samuel Alfred Mitchell, Robert G. Aitken, and Frank Elmore Ross; photographic researcher Charles Edward Kenneth Mees; stellar spectroscopist Paul Willard Merrill; and physicist Louis Vessot King. Detailed is King's interactions with optical designers C.P. Goerz American Optical Company, dry plate manufacturer Hammar Dry Plate Company, and the Special Materials Company, a supplier of photographic chemicals.
Historical note on the Harvard College Observatory
In 1839, the Harvard Corporation appointed William Cranch Bond, the first Astronomical Observer, to the University, thereby taking the first step in establishing the Harvard College Observatory, after which the first telescope was installed in 1847. Scholars and students had studied astronomy at Harvard since the seventeenth century, but it wasn't until a large comet sparked public interest in 1843 that donors began donating funds to build an observatory. During the tenure of the Harvard College Observatory's first three directors, William Cranch Bond (1839-1859), George Phillips Bond (1859-1865), and Joseph Winlock (1866-1875), the Observatory's research focused on lunar photography and chronometric activities. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, under the direction of Edward C. Pickering (1877-1919), research shifted from celestial mechanics and positional astronomy to astrophysics. As a result, the Observatory developed into a major research institution, focusing on photographic star surveys and spectroscopic analysis, culminating in the publication of the Henry Draper Catalogue, with spectroscopic classifications for 225,300 stars. During Pickering's tenure, many women astronomers, including Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, and Williamina Fleming, performed essential research at the Observatory.
During the next several years, the Observatory became an important center for astronomical training and research. Harlow Shapley, director from 1921 to 1952, inaugurated a graduate study program in astronomy. Mandating that public education be a part of the Observatory's mission, Shapley required students in the Harvard program to present lectures on astronomy to public school children. Donald H. Menzel (1952-1966) arranged a cooperative relationship with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (founded in 1890) and its relocation to Cambridge in 1955. Financial support for the Observatory expanded under Leo Goldberg (1966-1970), and in 1973 George B. Field (1972-1983) created an administrative umbrella organization, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, to coordinate the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory's programs. Today, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics continues studies in astronomy, Earth and space sciences, and science education, while the Harvard College Observatory supports Harvard's Department of Astronomy.
Biographical note on Edward S. King
Edward Skinner King (1861-1931), an astronomer, was an observer (1887-1913), assistant professor (1913-1926), and Phillips Professor of Astronomy (1926-1931) at the Harvard College Observatory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After receiving his BA from Hamilton College in 1887, King joined the staff at the Harvard College Observatory, where he supervised the standard testing of photographic plates and the photographic photometry of astronomical objects. King became a pioneer and authority on photographic photometry, measuring the flux or intensity of light radiated by astronomical objects. In 1912, King discovered that certain types of film appeared to perform better during winter months, which led to his development of the "cold camera," where the temperature is lowered to around -40 degrees, improving the photographic measurement of an object's magnitude. In addition, King developed new methods of clock control, instrumental guiding, and plate testing at Harvard. King was the first to photograph the spectrum of the aurora borealis, determine color differences in stars, and observe star occultations using photographic methods. King's techniques contributed to the photometric determinations of the sun, moon, earth, and stars. King was a regular contributor to astronomy magazines and a member of several scientific societies. King's photographic methods were detailed in Photographic Photometry (1912) and Manual of Celestial Photography: Principles and Practice for Those Interested in Photographing the Heavens(1931), a book explaining how to take celestial photographs. King married Kate Irene Colson in 1890. They had three children: Harold, Margaret, and Everett.
Folders are chiefly arranged chronologically.
The Harvard University Archives received the Records of the Harvard College Observatory relating to photographic photometry kept by Edward S. King from the Harvard College Observatory on February 12, 1951.
Biographical note references
- "Edward Skinner King." Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936.
- Leon Campbell, Edward Skinner King. Science 74, 380 (1931).
The Records of the Harvard College Observatory relating to photographic photometry kept by Edward S. King were processed in October 2023.
Folder titles and dates supplied by the archivist appear in brackets.
- Harvard College Observatory. Records of the Harvard College Observatory relating to photographic photometry kept by Edward S. King, 1899-1931: an inventory
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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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