Friends of the Zeiss

P.O. Box 1041

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15230-1041 U.S.A.

Telephone: 412-561-7876

Electronic Mail: < >

Internet Web Site: < >


2005 June 30


Mr. David M. Hillenbrand, President

The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

4400 Forbes Avenue

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213-4080


Dear Mr. Hillenbrand:


First, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as the new President of The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.


Let me introduce myself. I was employed with The Carnegie Science Center’s predecessor, The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center) from 1982 to 1991; I was also employed for a brief time with The Carnegie Science Center, until the beginning of 1992. I wore several “hats” while working at Buhl Planetarium including Planetarium Lecturer, Coordinator of the Astronomical Observatory, and Curator of the Embryology Exhibit.


I now serve as Project Director of a new non-profit organization called Friends of the Zeiss. Friends of the Zeiss was formally organized in April of 2002, with the mission "To preserve, maintain and operate, and to raise funds for these purposes, two historic scientific instruments and associated apparatus and artifacts originated at The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania."


Quite frankly, we have not been able to effectively perform our mission, due to a dispute with The Carnegie Science Center. This dispute began in 1995, when The Carnegie Science Center attempted to sell two very historic pieces of apparatus from The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector and the 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope, to Navarro College in central Texas. Navarro College did not even plan to use this equipment; they would only have displayed them (but, for how long?) as antique artifacts!


As this equipment, and other Buhl Planetarium artifacts, are legally the property of the City of Pittsburgh, we petitioned for a public hearing before Pittsburgh City Council regarding this proposed sale. At the public hearing, when City Council learned of the historic nature of the artifacts, they did not permit the sale to proceed.


These and other Buhl artifacts, along with the Buhl Planetarium building (also City property), were abandoned and turned-back to the City, by Carnegie Institute, in December of 1996. Since that time, there have been several proposals for reuse of the building. I provided tours of the building for officials of the School District of Pittsburgh and the Consortium of Italian American Organizations, when each considered reuse of the building. I also worked with the National Aviary when they considered reuse of the building. All three organizations planned to maintain the historic equipment and artifacts in the Buhl Planetarium building. In fact, the National Aviary wished to use the Zeiss II Projector, for a public show on how birds navigate by the stars!


In 2000, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh proposed a plan to connect the Buhl Planetarium building with their then-current home, the old Allegheny Post Office building which is located across the street. Although this plan was completed last year, the Children’s Museum was hostile to our suggestions that the

Mr. David M. Hillenbrand                                    2005 June 30                                       Page 2 of 4




historic equipment and artifacts should remain in the Buhl Planetarium building where they could actually be used


Hence, a plan was developed whereby The Carnegie Science Center would dismantle the Zeiss Projector, Siderostat Telescope, and the Mercator’s Projection Map of the World (when originally constructed for the 1939 World’s Fair, it was considered the largest such map in the world!) and they would be reassembled in an expanded Science Center building. Although the claim was made that the Siderostat Telescope and World Map would retain their functionality, the Science Center’s plan was to place the Zeiss II Projector on display as an exhibit, with minimal operation; it was publicly stated, by the Science Center Director, that a new 65-foot diameter domed, planetarium theater would not be built for the Zeiss II Projector (the current planetarium only has a 50-foot diameter dome, insufficient for use of the Zeiss II).


Friends of the Zeiss opposed the plan at that time and continues to oppose that plan to this day. The Zeiss II is the last operable, major pre-World War II planetarium projector in the world. And, even your planetarium director concedes that the Zeiss II gives a more realistic depiction of the night sky than does the digital planetarium they are currently using. Relegating the Zeiss II to being an exhibit, with minimal functionality, wastes this wonderful resource. And, this does not well serve the history of Pittsburgh, or of the planetarium profession.


Charges that the Zeiss II can no longer operate are faulty. The Zeiss II was abandoned in 1994 and sat in an empty building for eight years, with little, if any, maintenance. So, of course, you cannot operate this projector without some maintenance and restoration, which Friends of the Zeiss is prepared to perform.


Directly across the Ohio River from The Carnegie Science Center is The Duquesne Incline, which has been operating a valuable rail passenger service for more than 128 years! Historic equipment can perform a good public service, if there is an interest. Please note that I created and maintain the official Internet web site for The Duquesne Incline at
< >.


Further, it has been suggested that Buhl’s Zeiss II (prior to dismantling) is not the oldest in the world. The facts are:


1)              A Zeiss Projector in Johannesburg was originally built in 1930, but completely rebuilt in the mid-1950s. Buhl’s Zeiss II is original 1939 apparatus;

2)              A 1937 projector in Springfield, Massachusetts, which has been well-maintained over the years, is not actually a planetarium. This projector was never designed to display the complex motions of the planets, only the simple motion of the stars; hence, despite statements to the contrary, this projector is really a Stellarium.


Hence, prior to the dismantling of the Zeiss II a year ago, Buhl Planetarium’s Zeiss II was the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world !


Well, both historic instruments, as well as the World Map, presently lay dismantled in the Science Center warehouse. With the abandonment of the proposed Science Center expansion project, it is our fear that these valuable artifacts will remain dismantled indefinitely, perhaps forever! Except for the Buhl Planetarium building, there presently is no where else these artifacts could be utilized. It is the view of Friends of the Zeiss that these artifacts should be returned to functionality in the original Buhl Planetarium building. We feel that, not only is this the most cost-effective way to handle this problem, but this is really the only way that truly displays the functionality of the equipment in the context of the history of the beginning of the planetarium profession.


We want to make you aware that there is a risk with the current storage of the Zeiss II Projector, Siderostat Telescope, World Map, and other original Buhl Planetarium artifacts that may be currently stored in the

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Science Center warehouse. In June of 1972, the entire North Shore area, including this warehouse and Three Rivers Stadium, were flooded due to the remnants of Hurricane Agnes. Hurricanes do come to Pittsburgh from time-to-time.



Fortunately, last September’s Hurricane Ivan did not flood the North Shore as did Hurricane Agnes.

However, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist I spoke with a couple years ago, it is only a matter of time before another Hurricane Agnes-type flood event occurs on the North Shore. If these historic pieces of equipment and artifacts are in the warehouse when such a flood event occurs, they will be destroyed. And, no matter how much insurance the Science Center has on these artifacts, there will be no way to reconstruct a historic 1939 Zeiss II Projector—this history would be gone forever!


Hence, we believe that there is urgency in returning the historic equipment and artifacts to the original Buhl Planetarium building. At the very least, these artifacts should be removed from the North Shore flood plain, perhaps to another Carnegie warehouse.


Now, we recognize the political problems with their immediate return to the Buhl Planetarium building. The current tenant of the Buhl Planetarium building, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, does not want responsibility for these artifacts. And, the City of Pittsburgh, which is the legal owner of both the original Buhl Planetarium building and all of the historic pieces of equipment and artifacts I have mentioned, has permitted the Children’s Museum to redevelop the Buhl Planetarium building as they see fit.


However, we strongly believe that these historic pieces of equipment and artifacts should be returned to the Buhl Planetarium building at the earliest opportunity. And, such an opportunity could present itself in a year or two.


The Children’s Museum has been running operating budget deficits in each of the past five fiscal years; nearly a million-dollar deficit last year and half-million dollar deficits in each of the previous two years! We believe that their contention that they can operate an expanded museum, four times the size of their original museum, without operating deficits is simply wishful thinking. Return and use of the historic Buhl Planetarium equipment and artifacts could maximize the revenue potential of the Buhl Planetarium building and reduce Children’s Museum operating deficits in the future; we will seek City permission to return these artifacts to the Buhl Planetarium building, once it is demonstrated that the Children’s Museum cannot operate the enlarged museum without operating deficits. We are asking that The Carnegie Science Center cooperate in the return of the historic equipment and artifacts, to the Buhl Planetarium building, should such an opportunity arise.


At this time, we have two other requests:


1) According to the Proposal of The Carnegie Science Center, submitted during the City of Pittsburgh's RFP process in the Spring of 2002, regarding the dismantling and removal of historic Buhl Planetarium equipment and artifacts:


“CSC proposes to document all steps in the evaluation, disassembly and removal of the artifacts through still photography and through digital videography of key steps in the procedure. This will create a permanent visual record of the condition of the artifacts at the time of removal and the actual steps and procedures in the process. CSC will also provide a written documentation of the results of the evaluation for the City.”


Friends of the Zeiss would like to review the still photography and digital videography of the dismantling of the artifacts. We would also like a copy of any "written documentation of the results of the evaluation for


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the City.” Friends of the Zeiss maintains an extensive Internet web site on the History of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, at the Internet addresses:


< >    or         < >


We would like to include the still photographs of the dismantling procedures, for the three artifacts, on our Internet web site. Can copies of these photographs be provided to us? We would certainly be willing to pay any reasonable photograph copying charges.


2) On the enclosed addendum, is a list of Buhl Planetarium artifacts owned by the City of Pittsburgh, which we understand were moved to The Carnegie  Science Center in 1991 or 1994. We, respectfully, ask that we receive a report regarding the status and condition of these artifacts. As these are all City property, we would be willing to forward a copy of this report to the City of Pittsburgh.


Thank you for your kind consideration of these three requests. Friends of the Zeiss would be willing to meet with you, at your convenience, to further explain and discuss this matter. Do not hesitate to contact me for further information.


Sincerely yours,




Glenn A. Walsh

Project Director




Copy:          Steering Committee, Friends of the Zeiss