Records of Harvard College Observatory Director William Cranch Bond
The Records of Harvard College Observatory Director William Cranch Bond document the founding, growth, and scientific research of the Harvard College Observatory primarily from 1840 to 1859. Also chronicled is the Observatory’s participation in advances made in astronomy, stellar photography, meteorology, continental exploration, and technological improvements in astronomical instruments in the early nineteenth century. William Cranch Bond (1789-1859), American astronomer and instrument maker, was the first director of the Harvard College Observatory from 1839 to 1859.
- 1818-1819, 1840-1864
- Harvard College Observatory (Organization)
Open for research.
Extent4.80 cubic feet (11 document boxes, 7 flat boxes )
The Records of Harvard College Observatory Director William Cranch Bond document the founding, growth, and scientific research of the Harvard College Observatory primarily from 1840 to 1859. Also chronicled is the Observatory’s participation in advances made in astronomy, stellar photography, meteorology, continental exploration, and technological improvements in astronomical instruments in the early nineteenth century. Researchers should note that topics and descriptions of events and activities of the Harvard College Observatory overlap between series.
The most significant component of the records is the correspondence files detailing the establishment, administration, and research of the Harvard College Observatory during the 1840s and 1860s. Noted are the beginnings of the Observatory at Dana House in 1839 and its relocation to its present site on Observatory Hill (formerly known as Summer House Hill) in 1844, fundraising efforts to support its scientific program, the purchase of telescopes and other instruments. Additionally, Bond’s diary entries include remarks on his appointment as director of the Observatory in 1846 and of his son George Phillips Bond (1825-1865) as assistant director and Bond’s thoughts on the construction of a dome for the new Observatory building. An account book documents routine expenditures including office supplies, the purchase of instruments, and repairs to equipment from 1846 to 1861. The correspondence files include Bond’s exchanges regarding astronomical observations with some of the most important astronomers of the nineteenth-century, illustrating the intellectual climate of the time and the growth of astronomical science at Harvard and other institutions in the United States and Europe. Additionally, Bond’s correspondence captures the growing interest in astronomy in America during the nineteenth century. Many of the letters from amateur astronomers include their observations of meteors, the Moon, the rings of Saturn, and comets, including The Great Comet (Donati’s comet) of 1858.
Chronicled primarily in the correspondence and subject files, as well as in Bond’s diary, is the wide-ranging exploration of planets, moons, comets, meteors, and stars undertaken at the Harvard College Observatory from the 1840s to 1860s. The records document Bond’s seminal discovery, with his son George, of Hyperion, the eighth satellite of Saturn (1848), and its inner ring called Ring C, or the Crepe Ring (1846). Recounted is Bond’s extensive studies of the Orion Nebula, and the use of The Great Refractor telescope to view the moons of Jupiter, the comet Encke, and Donati's Comet (1858). Illustrating new nineteenth-century methods of astronomical observation is data compiled by Bond on Triton, a moon of the planet Neptune (1847-1848), Mercury (1845), Venus (1842), and the Great Comet of 1843.
Taken at the Harvard College Observatory are some of the first recognizable photographs of celestial objects. Bond, with his son George, were pioneers in stellar photography. William Bond’s exchanges in the correspondence files describe his use of the daguerreotype process to take a series of photographs of the Moon (1849-1851), illustrating the early application of photography to astronomy. Other exchanges mention Bond’s photographing of other celestial objects including the star Vega (1850), the planet Jupiter (1851), and the double star Mizar using the collodion-process (1857). William Bond’s first attempt to take a daguerreotype of the Moon and Sun is recounted in his diary (October 23, 1847). Annual reports in the subject files recount the use of the daguerreotype and calotype processes to photography images in space (1848-1850).
Much of the early observational activity at the Observatory was meteorological and magnetic. Monthly barometer readings, meteorological journals, registers, and tables principally in the subject files document the Observatory’s contribution in the development of a standardized and institutionalized metrological science in the nineteenth-century; one that relied on regulated observers and techniques of observation to produce an accurate picture of the national weather. Included are rainfall accumulation records for the city of Cambridge, monthly thermometer readings, and summaries of meteorological observations. Letters in the correspondence files include Bond’s exchanges with weather observers and cartographers seeking meteorological information.
The correspondence and subject files recount the Harvard College Observatory’s central role in American continental exploration through its association with the United States War Department surveying the American West; its collaboration with the United States Coast Survey in the establishment of coast-to-coast boundaries; and participation in chronometric expeditions for the determination of longitude. The records document Bond’s establishment of the Observatory’s position relative to the national observatories of Europe, and in the absence of a fixed national observatory in the United States, its delivery of lunar culminations, occultations, and eclipse coordinates for determining latitudes and longitudes for numerous federal surveys in the early nineteenth century.
The records also illustrate Bond’s mechanical ingenuity as a maker of scientific instruments. Noted chiefly in the correspondence and subject files are his efforts to construct the first suitable spring-governor chronograph for the automatic recording of star transits, his development of electric-telegraphic methods for longitude work, and the construction of the observatory chair for The Great Refractor telescope. Detailed are Bond’s attempts to establish a magnetic telegraph between the Harvard College Observatory and the principal cities of the United States to determine their precise geographical positions. Additionally, the records document Bond’s efforts in establishing the world’s first public time service between Cambridge to clocks in Boston through telegraph wires, primarily to support the timetables of New England railroads in 1851.
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), much of the Observatory’s research focused on lunar photography and chronometric activities to establish American longitude and to operate a time service for the United States government and commercial interests. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, under the direction of Edward C. Pickering (1877-1919), research shifted from celestial mechanics and positional astronomy to astrophysics. The Observatory developed into a major research institution, focusing on photographic star surveys, spectroscopic analysis, and culminating in 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, and building relationships with other institutions. Harlow Shapley, director from 1921 to 1952, inaugurated a program of graduate study 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, astrophysics, earth and space sciences, and science education, while the Harvard College Observatory supports Harvard’s Department of Astronomy.
Biographical note on William Cranch Bond
William Cranch Bond (1789-1859), American astronomer and instrument maker, was the first director of the Harvard College Observatory from 1839 to 1859. Bond undertook extensive studies of the Orion Nebula and Saturn, and in 1848 discovered Hyperion in collaboration with his son George Phillips Bond (1825-1865). Pioneers in the application of photography to astronomy, the Bonds made the first recognizable daguerreotype of the Moon and the star Vega in 1850. In that same year, they also discovered the first dark inner ring of Saturn (the Crepe Ring). The Bonds produced the first recognizable photographic print of the Moon in 1857.
The Bond family migrated to Boston, Massachusetts in 1790. Bond’s father William (died 1848) was a clockmaker and established William Bond and Son. The firm was a maker of scientific instruments, particularly chronometers. Business was slow, and Bond needed to leave public school at an early age to help his struggling family. Although spending most of his time working with his father, Bond found time to study and further his education. At an early age, he demonstrated a mechanical ability, making toys and other unique items of interest for children. Likewise, in 1804, from directions he found in an old French textbook, Bond made his first chronometer. Bond continued his work improving chronometers so that by 1812 they were regularly used on Boston merchant ships. After viewing a total eclipse of the sun in 1806, Bond became fascinated with astronomy. Creating a sundial with pieces of string, Bond plotted the stars and comets. Subsequently, he independently discovered the Great Comet of 1811 and began his practice of recording astronomical phenomena. Bond traced the courses of comets, collected lunar culminations, occultations, and eclipses of the sun, and determined the longitudinal position of his observatory and home in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Similarly, during his travels in New England, Bond took a sextant and a chronometer with him to plot the latitudes and longitudes of the places he visited. Bond also took an active interest in meteorology and magnetism. Between 1825 and 1830, Bond increasingly improved the accuracy of his chronometers, and in 1838 he received a contract from the United States Navy to make longitudinal and other measurements during its exploratory expeditions from 1838 to 1842.
The establishment of an observatory at Harvard University was fostered by astronomical discoveries taking place in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, including the detection of Uranus in 1791, and observations of satellites, minor planets, and brilliantly lit comets. In 1815, the Harvard Corporation established a committee to purchase astronomical instruments and to erect an observatory building. Bond was about to travel to Europe at the time and was asked by the chairman of the committee, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy John Farrar (1779-1853) to study the Greenwich Observatory in England and to draft plans and estimates for the building of an observatory at Harvard. Although Bond carried out his instructions, the project failed due to lack of funds. The plans for the observatory remained dormant until 1839 when Harvard president Josiah Quincy, persuaded Bond to move his astronomical instruments to Dana House and become the first Astronomical Observer to Harvard University. Working without pay for the next five years, Bond remained at Dana House making what were in large part meteorological and magnetic observations. However, using the limited equipment available, Bond also observed occultations, eclipses, and comets; in addition to continuing his work as a clockmaker; and carrying out his duties to the United States Navy. Bond also began planning the construction of a new Harvard observatory and the addition of new equipment.
A new period began at the Harvard College Observatory with the mounting of The Great Refractor, a 15-inch telescope in 1847. For twenty years it was the largest telescope in the United States and the centerpiece of the Observatory, and with it, Bond began a series of astronomical observations of comets, planets, stars and other celestial objects. The results Bond achieved led to his election in 1849 as the first American Foreign Associate of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1848 Bond undertook extensive studies of the Orion Nebula and Saturn, and that year he discovered Hyperion in collaboration with his son, George Phillips Bond (1825-1865). Working with John Adams Whipple (1822-1891), an American inventor and early photographer, the Bonds pioneered astrophotography, taking a daguerreotype image of the star Vega in 1850; the first ever taken from America. That same year the Bonds discovered the dark inner ring of Saturn (the Crepe Ring). In 1857, the Bonds made the first recognizable photographic print of the Moon. Meanwhile, moon culminations and star transits were completed by the Harvard College Observatory for the United States Coast Survey and United States Army Topographical Engineers to assist in the establishment of national boundaries and map coastal byways. Regular detailed examinations of the surface markings of the sun and planets, and views of comets, clusters of stars, and nebulae took place at the Observatory. Additionally, Bond improved the chronograph for the automatic recording of star transits to assist in navigation and the establishment of precise geographical positions; developed electric-telegraphic methods for longitude work, and established a service for telegraphing time signals to New England from the Harvard College Observatory. After Bond died on January 29, 1859, his son George Phillips Bond succeeded him as director.
William Cranch Bond married his first wife Selina Cranch (1798-1831) on July 18, 1819. Selina was the mother of his six children: William Cranch Jr. (1821-1841), Joseph Cranch (1823-1860), George Phillips (1825-1865), Richard Field (1827-1866), Elizabeth Lidstone (1829-1851), and Selina Cranch (1831-1920). After Selina died in 1831, Bond married her elder sister, Mary Roope Cranch Bond (1767-1860) on December 16, 1832.
Records are organized in six series:
- Correspondence files, 1819, 1840-1864
- Letters acknowledging receipt of Annals of the Astronomical Observatory at Harvard College, 1855-1859
- Subject files, 1818, 1840-1859
- Diary and supplementary notebook, 1846 April 15-1849 December 23
- Observational data, correspondence and related records, 1840-1858
- Account book of William Cranch Bond and George Phillips Bond, 1846-1861
The Records of Harvard College Observatory Director William Cranch Bond were received by the Harvard University Archives before 1980.
- Bailey, Solon I. The History and Work of Harvard Observatory, 1839 to 1927: An Outline of the Origin, Development, and Researchers of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College together with Brief Biographies of Its Leading Members. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1931.
- “Case Files: Harlow Shapley." The Franklin Institute. June 07, 2017. Accessed June 14, 2018. https://www.fi.edu/case-files/harlow-shapley.
- "George Field." Interview by David DeVorkin. American Institute of Physics. May 26, 2015. Interview date: Wednesday, 5 December 2007. Accessed June 18, 2018. https://www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/33713.
- Goldberg, Leo, and Lawrence H. Aller. "Donald Howard Menzel 1901-1976" Biographical Memoirs: V.60 at NAP.edu. National Academies Press: OpenBook. Accessed June 14, 2018. https://www.nap.edu/read/6061/chapter/11.
- "Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA)." Encyclopædia Britannica, 5 Mar. 2010. academic-eb-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/levels/collegiate/article/Harvard-Smithsonian-Center-for-Astrophysics/126081. Accessed 3 May. 2018.
- Hoffleit, Dorrit. Some Firsts in Astronomical Photography. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard College Observatory, 1950.
- Holden, Edward S. Memorials of William Cranch Bond Director of the Harvard College Observatory 1840-1859 and of his son George Phillips Bond Director of the Harvard College Observatory 1859-1865. San Francisco: C.A. Murdock and Company, 1897.
- Jones, Bessie Zaban, and Lyle Gifford Boyd. The Harvard College Observatory: The First Four Directorships, 1839-1919. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.
- Naylor, Simon. “Nationalizing provincial weather: meteorology in nineteenth-century Cornwall.” The British Journal for the History of Science 39 (September 2006) : 407-433.
- Stephens, Carlene E. “Partners in Time: William Bond and Son of Boston and the Harvard College Observatory.” Harvard Library Bulletin 35, no. 4 (Fall 1987) : 351-383.
- Stephens, Carlene. “Astronomy as Public Utility: The Bond Years at the Harvard College Observatory.” Journal for the History of Astronomy 21 (February 1990) : 21-36.
- Wikipedia contributors, "Donald Howard Menzel," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Donald_Howard_Menzel&oldid=842731325 (accessed June 14, 2018).
- Wikipedia contributors, "George B. Field." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, June 13, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_B._Field. (accessed June 14, 2018).
- Wikipedia contributors, "Harvard College Observatory," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Harvard_College_Observatory&oldid=839248087 (accessed June 14, 2018).
- Wikipedia contributors, "Leo Goldberg," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Leo_Goldberg&oldid=824183667 (accessed June 14, 2018).
- "William Cranch Bond." Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 Mar. 1999. academic-eb-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/levels/collegiate/article/William-Cranch-Bond/80573. Accessed 3 May. 2018.
This docuent last updated 2019 October 10.
Records of Harvard College Observatory Director William Cranch Bond processed in February-April 2018 by Dominic P. Grandinetti. Processing included rehousing materials in the appropriate containers, the establishment of a series hierarchy, photocopying news clippings, and the creation of this finding aid.
Call numbers beyond the base call number were eliminated. Former call numbers are noted at the series level.
Original folder titles were retained. In some cases, folder titles were transcribed from content notes appearing on documents. Any folder titles and dates supplied by the archivist appear in brackets.
In all respects, the archivist attempted to retain and preserve the original arrangement and existing relationships of the documents as established by William Cranch Bond. Processing and arrangement details of each series are noted at the series level.
- Account books.
- Amateur astronomy.
- Annual reports.
- Astronomers -- United States.
- Astronomical clocks -- United States.
- Astronomical instruments -- Design and construction.
- Astronomical observatories -- Massachusetts -- Cambridge.
- Astronomical photography.
- Astronomical photometry.
- Astronomy -- 19th century.
- Astronomy -- History.
- Astronomy -- Research.
- Bond, George Phillips, 1825-1865.
- Bond, William Cranch, 1789-1859
- Financial records.
- Harvard University -- Astronomy.
- Harvard University -- Meteorology.
- Longitude -- Measurement -- History.
- Magnetic fields.
- Scientific apparatus and instruments.
- Solar eclipses -- Observations.
- Stars -- Clusters.
- Surveying -- Geodetic.
- Time measurements.
- U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.
- United States Coast Survey
- United States. Army. Corps of Topographical Engineers.
- Variable stars.
- Harvard College Observatory. Records of the Harvard College Observatory Director William Cranch Bond, 1818-1819, 1840-1864: an inventory
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
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