Records of the Harvard College Observatory relating to meteor research kept by Willard J. Fisher
Willard James Fisher (1867-1934), physicist and astronomer, was a Harvard Lecturer of Astronomy and Research Associate at the Harvard College Observatory from 1922 to 1934. Fisher's fields of interest were lunar eclipse phenomena and meteoric astronomy. This series documents Willard J. Fisher's meteor research from 1924 to 1934 conducted at the Harvard College Observatory.
- 1924 - 1934
- Harvard College Observatory (Organization)
Open for research.
Extent3.66 cubic feet (12 document boxes)
This series documents Willard J. Fisher's meteor research from 1924 to 1934 at the Harvard College Observatory. Records include correspondence, news clippings, sketches, telegrams, lists, articles, reports, and photographs. Fisher's interactions with scientists, astronomers, lens designers, and members of the public who helped him in his efforts to understand meteors and other celestial occurrences are documented. Fisher's creation of a telescopic lens for taking photographs of meteors and this related investigation of meteoric dust are also detailed in the series.
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 William J. Fisher
Willard James Fisher (1867-1934), physicist and astronomer, was a Harvard Lecturer of Astronomy and Research Associate at the Harvard College Observatory from 1922 to 1934. Fisher's fields of interest were lunar eclipse phenomena and meteoric astronomy. Fisher made significant contributions to understanding meteors, particularly in fireball research, meteoric dust studies, meteor photography, and the distribution of stony and iron meteorites.
Fisher graduated in physics from Amherst College in 1892. He received a Doctor of Philosophy from Cornell University in 1908, where he was an instructor of physics. At various times, Fisher was associated with the physics departments at the University of New Hampshire, Clark University, the University of the Philippines, and the University of Hawaii. His work in physics included the study of gas viscosity, the height of the atmosphere, low sun phenomena, and the history of mechanics.
Fisher entered the field of astronomy late in life, joining the Harvard College Observatory in 1922. At Harvard, he organized lunar eclipse expeditions and became the first astronomer at Harvard to begin a program of study on the trajectories of meteors. Fisher searched the photographic plates at Harvard and cataloged all meteor photographs he discovered, which were valuable for study and research. Through the aid of newspapers, Fisher began a system for scientific recording, encouraging the public who had seen meteors to send him reports regarding altitudes, direction of motion, and velocity of the objects, all of which contributed to his studies. Fisher actively investigated fireballs and the microscopic examination of dust particles deposited in isolated places, seeking evidence of meteoric dust. Additionally, Fisher contributed to the "Modern Astronomical Observations" course and supervised graduate students in meteoric research at Harvard.
Records are organized into four series:
- Correspondence related to meteor observations, 1924-1934
- Correspondence, reports, notes, and other records related to meteor observations, 1924-1934
- Correspondence related to the Milton Fund and the J. Lawrence Smith Fund, 1924-1933
- Correspondence related to meteoric dust research, 1928-1933
The Harvard University Archives received the bulk of the Records of the Harvard College Observatory relating to meteor research kept by Willard J. Fisher before 1980.
Accession 2018.168 transferred from the Harvard University John G. Wolbach Library, Center for Astrophysics, September 15, 2017.
Biographical note references
- Campbell, Leon. "Willard James Fisher, 1867-1934." Popular Astronomy 43 (1938) : 475-478.
The Records of the Harvard College Observatory relating to meteor research kept by Willard J. Fisher were processed in October-November 2023.
Folder titles and dates supplied by the archivist appear in brackets.
- Harvard College Observatory. Records of the Harvard College Observatory relating to meteor research kept by Willard J. Fisher, 1924-1934: 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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