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COLLECTION Identifier: UAV 630.6

Records of Harvard College Observatory Director George Phillips Bond


The Records of Harvard College Observatory Director George Phillips Bond, consisting of correspondence and subject files, manuscript drafts, and astronomical data, chiefly document the research activities of the Harvard College Observatory from 1859 to 1865. Chronicled are observations of planets, including Mars and Jupiter; efforts to determine the brightness of stars; and the detection of comets, eclipses, and other astronomical phenomena. George Phillips Bond (1825-1865), an astronomer, was the director of the Harvard College Observatory and Phillips Professor of Astronomy at Harvard from 1859 to 1865.


  • Creation: 1845-1865


Researcher Access

Open for research.


5.75 cubic feet (14 document boxes, 4 flat boxes)

The Records of Harvard College Observatory Director George Phillips Bond, consisting of correspondence and subject files, manuscript drafts, and astronomical data, chiefly document the research activities of the Harvard College Observatory. Chronicled are observations of planets, including Mars and Jupiter; efforts to determine the brightness of stars; and the detection of comets, eclipses, and other astronomical phenomena. While the records include materials from 1845 to 1865, most of the files date from 1859 to 1865. Some of the records predate Bond’s time as director; Bond served as First Assistant Director under his father, William Cranch Bond (1789-1859), beginning in 1846. Researchers should note that topics and descriptions of events and activities of the Harvard College Observatory overlap between series. There is a small amount of material related to the management of the Observatory.

The bulk of the records consists of Bond’s correspondence with leading astronomers in which he discusses his plans and research work at the Observatory, examining planets, stars, and eclipses. Of particular interest are Bond’s descriptions of his studies of The Great Comet of 1858, a comet discovered by Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Donati (1826-1873) in 1858, principally regarding the collection of observations and measurements of the comet's nucleus, envelope, and tail. Bond’s description of the nucleus of the comet Donati, On the Figure of the Head of the Comet Donati (1861) is in the subject files. Chronicled in the correspondence files is Bond’s work on the nebula of Orion, begun in 1857 using The Great Refractor telescope, a 15-inch telescope installed at Harvard in 1847. For twenty years it was the largest telescope in the United States and formed the nucleus for the development of the Harvard College Observatory. Abstracts in the subject files contain Bond’s descriptions of the observations he made of the Orion nebula. Similarly, Bond’s correspondence documents the Observatory’s experiences and successes photographing celestial objects, opening up new areas for astronomical observation and stellar photography. Bond’s groundbreaking use of photography to explore the sky and his photographic techniques to image the stars are described in Celestial Photography (1859) andOn the Light of the Sun, Moon, Jupiter, and Venus (1861).

Illustrated in Bond’s correspondence are the astronomical activities of professional and amateur astronomers who sent Bond many reports regarding the detection of meteors, asteroids, planets, and other celestial phenomena, including The Great Comet of 1858, and exceptionally bright comets including the Great Comets of 1860 and 1861. Bond’s exchanges highlight the public’s interest in astronomy in addition to the advances made in the field during the nineteenth century. Also recounted in the records, and particularly in Bond’s annual reports to the Harvard Corporation, is the work of several Harvard College Observatory research assistants such as Horace Parnell Tuttle (1837-1923), Asaph Hall (1829-1907), and Truman H. Safford (1836-1901). Likewise, journal articles by Bond document the discovery of the asteroid Feronia (72) by Safford (1862); and report on Safford's observations of the right accession of Polaris, the brightest star in the constellation of Ursa Minor (1864). Similarly, Bond details the discovery of Klytia (73), a main-belt asteroid by Tuttle (1862). Hall’s observational data, including formulas and algorithms, chronicle his efforts calculating the position of Tuttle’s Comet (1858). Additionally, the subject files contain notes on solar bright spots and faint stars discovered by Bond and his assistants.

The impact of the American Civil War (1861-1865) on the Observatory’s activities is disclosed in Bond’s correspondence and annual reports to the Harvard Corporation. Bond regularly expresses the need for funds to keep the Observatory fully functional, as well as his difficulties in publishing the observational research results accumulated over the previous decade because of the war. Also, Bond notes the departure of research assistants Horace P. Tuttle and Asaph Hall after they joined the Union Army, hampering the Observatory’s activities; along with the death of assistant Sydney Coolidge (1825-1863) at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863.

A limited amount of the records document the administration of the Harvard College Observatory. Annual reports found in the subject files, in addition to chronicling astronomical and meteorological activities, report on the condition of instruments, grounds, and buildings, and the lack of funds available to carry on the Observatories research activities. Bills, price lists, and ledger sheets also in the subject files note the income and expenditures of the Observatory, the purchase of office supplies and equipment, the cost of maintenance, and expenses for printing the Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College.

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 George Phillips Bond

George Phillips Bond (1825-1865), an astronomer, was the director of the Harvard College Observatory and Phillips Professor of Astronomy at Harvard from 1859 to 1865. Bond was the son of William Cranch Bond (1789-1859), director of the Harvard College Observatory from 1839 to 1859, and of Selina (Cranch) Bond (1798-1837). Bond is credited with the discovery of Hyperion, the eighth satellite of Saturn in 1848 and was a pioneer in photographic astronomy making the first recognizable daguerreotype of the Moon (1849) and the star Vega (1850). Bond used photography to map the sky, measure double stars, determine the stellar parallax, and measure the brightness of celestial objects.

Bond was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts on May 20, 1825, and graduated from Harvard University in 1845. He began making astronomical observations in 1842, working at home from his father's observatory. After graduation, Bond was appointed First Assistant Director of the Harvard College Observatory, and when his father died in 1859, Bond was named director of the Observatory. Bond is probably best known for his monograph on The Great Comet of 1858 (also known as Donati's comet), Account of the Great Comet of 1858 (1862), a comet discovered by Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Donati (1826-1873). This publication garnered general acclaim, and Bond's detailed drawings of the comet reveal him not only as an exact observer but also as an artist. For his efforts, Bond was awarded a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society of Great Britain, the first American to receive such an award, in February 1865; the formal announcement did not reach Harvard until a few days after his death. Another significant contribution to astronomy was Bond's study of the nebula of Orion, begun in 1857. However, Bond's investigation of the nebula was interrupted for several years for work on The Great Comet. After Bond's account of The Great Comet was published in 1862, he resumed his nebula work, devoting most of his efforts and failing strength to this research until his death in 1865. Later, under the editorship of Truman H. Safford (1836-1901), Bond's work on the Orion nebula, a catalog of 1101 stars and drawings of the nebula,Observations upon the Great Nebula of Orion, was published as the fifth volume of the Annals of the Observatory of Harvard College (1867).

Experimenting in the application of photography to astronomy, Bond laid the groundwork for investigations by later astronomers, including Harvard notables William H. Pickering (1858-1938) and Edward C. Pickering (1846-1919). With the assistance of American inventor and early photographer John A. Whipple (1822-1891), Bond took the first daguerreotype picture of a star, Vega, in 1850; and a daguerreotype of a partial eclipse in 1851. Also in 1851, Bond began a series of experiments which examined the effect of the change of focus in photography, obtaining much sharper pictures of the Moon. Subsequently, Bond's photograph of the moon was presented at the Great Exhibition in London in the summer of 1851, stimulating astrophotography in Great Britain. In the same year, the first successful photographs of Jupiter were taken at Harvard. In 1857, Bond and Whipple obtained their first plates of Alcor and Mizar using the collodion process (wet plate), initiating further photographic studies of double stars. In 1858, Bond began investigations of image brightness, suggesting that photography could be used to measure a star's magnitude. Through August 1860, Bond took about 70 daguerreotypes and between 200 and 300 wet collodion plates of the Moon, stars, and planets. Bond's early studies demonstrated that photography had great potential to advance the field of astronomy and secured a place for him as one of the pioneers in astrophotography.

Bond was known as a thoughtful and resourceful investigator, carrying out many significant scientific investigations including observations made for the United States Coast Survey Chronometric Expeditions between Cambridge and Liverpool, England determining American longitudes. Bond planned the first observations of the zones of faint stars; and completed studies in the photometry of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars. He tirelessly searched for and computed the orbits of comets. Additionally, Bond had an interest in mathematical theory as it related to astronomy and developed a method of mechanical quadratures.

George Phillips Bond married Harriet Gardner Harris (1829-1858) on January 27, 1853. They had three children: Elizabeth Lidstone Bond (1853-1943), Catherine Harris Bond (1856-1923), and Harriet Denny Bond (died 1858).

Bond died of tuberculosis on February 17, 1865.


The records are organized in four series:

  1. Correspondence files, 1850-1865
  2. Subject files, 1850-1865
  3. Manuscript drafts and astronomical calculations, 1845-1865
  4. Manuscript drafts and observational data on comets, 1852-1865

Acquisition information

The Records of Harvard College Observatory Director George Phillips Bond were received by the Harvard University Archives before 1980.

Related Material

In the Harvard University Archives
  1. Papers of George Phillips Bond, 1851-1865 (HUG 1224.803 and HUG 1224.805).
  2. Records of the Harvard College Observatory Director William Cranch Bond, 1818-1819, 1840-1864 (UAV 630.2):
  3. William Cranch Bond family collection, 1845-1872 and undated (HUG 1225 and HUG 1226).
  4. Preservation microfilm of selected series relating to Harvard College Observatory Directors William Cranch Bond and George Phillips Bond, 1818-1865 (UAV 630.2.1).
In the Houghton Library, Harvard University
  1. William Cranch Bond correspondence, 1840-1852 (MS AM 2805).
In Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University
  1. William Bond & Son records and Bond family papers, 1724-1931 (hsi00001).
  2. The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments holds numerous instruments used by George Phillips Bond including astronomical regulators, chronometers, casting patterns, and clocks.
In the Wolbach Archives, Harvard University
  1. Harvard College Observatory observations, longs, instrument readings, and calculations, 1750-1900 (KG11365-6).


  • 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.
  • "George Field." Interview by David DeVorkin. American Institute of Physics. May 26, 2015. Interview date: Wednesday, 5 December 2007. Accessed June 18, 2018.
  • "George Phillips Bond." In Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936. Biography In Context (accessed May 30, 2018).
  • Goldberg, Leo, and Lawrence H. Aller. "Donald Howard Menzel 1901-1976" Biographical Memoirs: V.60 at National Academies Press: OpenBook. Accessed June 14, 2018.
  • "Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA)." Encyclopædia Britannica, 5 Mar. 2010. 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.
  • 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.
  • Wikipedia contributors, "Donald Howard Menzel," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed June 14, 2018).
  • Wikipedia contributors, "George B. Field." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, June 13, 2018. (accessed June 14, 2018).
  • Wikipedia contributors, "Harvard College Observatory," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed June 14, 2018).
  • Wikipedia contributors, "Leo Goldberg," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed June 14, 2018).
  • "William Cranch Bond." Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 Mar. 1999. Accessed 3 May. 2018.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2022 May 13.

Processing Information

Records of Harvard College Observatory Director George Phillips Bond processed in April-June 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 George Phillips Bond. Processing and arrangement details are noted at the series level.

Harvard College Observatory. Records of the Harvard College Observatory Director George Phillips Bond, 1845-1865: an inventory
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Repository Details

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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