Harlow Shapley and Buhl Planetarium Assist in Creation of The Astronomical League

Internet Web Site Master Index for the History of
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh

The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science opened to the public on 1939 October 24. The Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh,[founded in 1929] and its co-founder Leo J. Scanlon, were instrumental in lobbying for a planetarium to built in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Scanlon [one of the first two Buhl Planetarium Lecturers], the Amateur Astronomers' Association, and the new Buhl Planetarium were also part of the effort to create a nationwide organization of amateur astronomers. At the behest of Harlow Shapley, Director of the Harvard College Observatory, Leo Scanlon served on the Constitution and By-Laws Committee of what would become the Astronomical League; Mr. Scanlon gave the report for the Committee at the 1947 conference which led to the official founding of the Astronomical League.

One of the early planning meetings, for the Astronomical League, occurred at The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science in Pittsburgh, in the Summer of 1940.

Harlow Shapley was a strong supporter of a national organization for amateur astronomers. There is an interesting anecdote regarding the value he placed in amateur astronomers. In 1934, Leo Scanlon presented a paper titled, "The Efficiency of Amateur Variable Star Observers," before the annual convention of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. This paper was based on a questionnaire he had written and distributed to the membership of the AAVSO. During a break, facetiously, Dr. Shapley asked Mr. Scanlon if he would read the same paper to Dr. Shapley's sometimes sloppy staff at Harvard!

Harlow Shapley gave the keynote address at the opening of "The People's Observatory" of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science. First Light, that evening, through the Observatory's primary telescope, a 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope, people viewed the planet Saturn.

On the same evening as the dedication of "The People's Observatory", a new planetarium show began and a new exhibit was unveiled. The planetarium show, "Bombers by Starlight," described the importance of celestial navigation to the military; during World War II, military aviators were trained in celestial navigation in the Buhl Planetarium's Theater of the Stars. The new exhibit, presented in Buhl's lower level Octagon Gallery[which surrounds the planetarium projector pit, below the star theater], was titled "Can America Be Bombed?" This all took place on the evening of Wednesday, 1941 November 19, two and one-half weeks before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii!

In the last week of 1941 November, 12 amateur societies, including the Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh, had ratified a draft constitution for the Amateur Astronomers' League of America. The League had planned to hold their first official convention, in 1942, in Detroit. Everything changed with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States entry into World War II. The Detroit meeting was cancelled due to gas rationing, and all League activities came to a halt.

In 1946, the League met in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, at the Cranbrook Institute of Science. The Committee on Permanent Organization was reconvened to make revisions to the 1941 Constitution, including a name change: Amateur Astronomers' League. By November of 1946, these constitutional amendments had been ratified by 10 amateur astronomy groups. This, finally, led to the founding convention at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute on 1947 July 4, with Dr. Shapley as Interim President. At the Philadelphia convention, Edward A. Halbach was elected as the League's first official President, and the organization's name was changed to the Astronomical League.

In 1954, Wilma Cherup, of the Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh, became The Astronomical League's Executive Secretary. She held this title for 23 years, becoming the backbone of the organization. Her Pittsburgh address, at 4 Klopfer Street, was considered by many members as the headquarters of the Astronomical League.

"Passing of Former Astronomical League Executive Secretary." Obituary.
South Hills Backyard Astronomers Mail Group 2010 Feb. 16.
Wilma A. Cherup, in addition to being Astronomical League Executive Secretary for
23 years, she was a life member of the Amateur Astronomers's Association of
Pittsburgh, which helped found The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.

Official Internet Web Site of The Astronomical League

Astronomical League History and Organization

Internet Web Site Master Index for the History of
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh

Other Internet Web Sites of Interest

History of Andrew Carnegie and Carnegie Libraries

History of Astronomer, Educator, and Optician John A. Brashear, Friend of Andrew Carnegie

History of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh - America's Fifth Major Planetarium !

History of the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, Chicago - America's First Major Planetarium !

History of The Duquesne Incline, Pittsburgh - Historic Cable Car Railway Serving Commuters and Tourists since 1877 !

Antique Telescope Society

Other History Links


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