Records of the High Altitude Observatory of Harvard University and University of Colorado
The High Altitude Observatory of Harvard University and University of Colorado was founded in 1940 and incorporated in 1946. The observatory, located in Climax, Colorado, was home to the first coronagraph in the United States and was dedicated to research about solar activity and solar-terrestrial relationships. The records document the administrative and research functions of the High Altitude Observatory from its establishment in 1940 to 1953.
- 1940 - 1953
Language of Materials
Open for research with the following exception: personnel records are closed for 80 years. Specific restrictions are noted at the folder level.
Extent7.12 cubic feet (4 half document boxes, 8 document boxes, and 6 portfolio folders)
The records document the establishment, administration, and research of the High Altitude Observatory of Harvard University and University of Colorado (HAO) from its founding in 1940 to 1953. The bulk of the records consist of Donald H. Menzel’s office files, which document his involvement with the HAO, as well as the administrative and research activities conducted at the Observatory. Administrative records include correspondence, memoranda and meeting agendas, telephone conversation summaries, financial statements, and planning documents. Proposals and reports for research contracts relating to solar activity and solar-terrestrial relationships document the HAO’s research initiatives. Records also document Menzel’s efforts to build and install the first coronagraph in the United States at the Climax station, and to expand the observatory and its equipment.
Aside from Menzel’s office files, additional administrative records document the building and expansion of facilities and equipment, budgetary concerns and fundraising efforts, and staff appointments. Contract proposals, reports, and memoranda demonstrate the research functions of the HAO, the Harvard College Observatory, and Harvard’s Sacramento Peak Station in Alamogordo, New Mexico on solar activity and solar-terrestrial relationships. Research initiatives were funded by various institutions including the Office of Naval Research, National Bureau of Standards, National Science Foundation, and Air Materiel Command.
Historical note on the High Altitude Observatory of Harvard University and University of Colorado
The High Altitude Observatory (HAO) was founded in 1940 as a Harvard University observation station, sometimes called the Fremont Pass Solar Observatory or the Climax station, in Climax, Colorado. It was incorporated as the High Altitude Observatory of Harvard University and University of Colorado in 1946, with the administrative offices moving to Boulder, Colorado. Around 1953, Harvard’s ties to the HAO were dissolved and it came fully under the administration of the University of Colorado. In 1960, the High Altitude Observatory became a division of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The HAO collaborated with other solar research institutions, including the Sacramento Peak Station in Alamogordo, New Mexico, which was administered by the Harvard College Observatory, but which shared administrative offices in Boulder, Colorado with the HAO.
In 1936, Donald Howard Menzel of Harvard College Observatory received a grant to build a coronagraph, the first in the United States. It was assembled and tested at the Oak Ridge Station in Harvard, Massachusetts. It was transported and installed at the Climax station at an altitude of 11,500 feet in 1940 by Walter Orr Roberts, Menzel’s graduate student and the first superintendent of the High Altitude Observatory. The coronagraph of the Climax station was also known as the sun obscuring device, the “Sun Blotter Outer” (SBO) or, affectionately, the SOB.
The High Altitude Observatory was a solar observatory. Its primary objective was to aid research about the sun and solar-terrestrial relationships. This included research about solar prominences, terrestrial magnetic/electrical storms, ultraviolet radiation, and temperature and pressure changes. The research contributed to various fields, including upper atmospheric research, electronics and optics, spectrographic analysis, and general weather patterns. The research was of interest to the military, particularly for its implications for radio communications, rocket projections, and nuclear research, and research from the HAO was classified during World War II.
The records consist of ten series. The records follow the arrangement of former call numbers given to series and subseries upon receipt at the Harvard University Archives. Former call numbers are indicated at the series level.
- Report of Superintendent to Board of Trustees, 1950
- Office files of Professor D. H. Menzel, 1940-1952
- Committee on Scientific Operations, 1951-1952
- Annual reports, 1951-1952
- [Announcement of Fremont Pass Solar Observatory and contract memorandum], 1940, 1950
- Material processed for distribution, 1949-1952
- Reports (HAO [High Altitude Observatory] - NBS [National Bureau of Standards]), 1952
- Solar research memoranda, 1951-1952
- Certificate of incorporation, 1946
- Supplemental proposal for a research grant from the National Science Foundation, 1953
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Specific acquisition information, when available, is listed at the series level.
This document last updated on 19 November 2021.
The collection was processed by Erin Clauss in January-February 2020. Titles are transcribed, with the exception of those in square brackets which were devised by the processing archivist.
- High Altitude Observatory of Harvard University and University of Colorado. Records of the High Altitude Observatory of Harvard University and University of Colorado, 1940-1953 : an inventory
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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.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA