Oldest Planetarium in a School

Note: Information on this web page was primarily gleaned from a listserver message thread, regarding the history of school planetaria, from the Planetarians' Listserver, "Dome-L," from September and October of 2004.

1) Planetarium at Jones Observatory in Chattanooga, Tennessee - It consists of a home built projector in 1951 under a 12' dome of corrugated card board and wood frame. The projector is a copper dodecahedron. The projector is still in use under a plaster 24' dome built in 1958.

Armand Sptiz on his visit there said he was going to sue for patent infringement. He took some of the improvements such as use of copper and the horizon light cutoff from this projector to use in his projectors.

The Jones Observatory was constructed for the Chattanooga school system in 1936. It is considered the first large public observatory and telescope in the south. It was leased for one dollar for 99 years to the University of Chattanooga during the second World War by the City of Chattanooga.

-- Information for this entry, courtesy of Bobby Thompson of the Walker County Science & Technology Center Chickamauga, Georgia and the history web page of the Jones Observatory.

2) Argus Planetarium, Ann Arbor, Michigan -
a) Name: Argus Planetarium
b) Donor: Argus Camera Company of Ann Arbor, Michigan for a cost of about $6,000.
c) Location: Inside of Pioneer High School (was called Ann Arbor High School back then)
d) Dedicated: 1956
I have the proceedings for a meeting at Cranbrook Institute of Science of a group that was to become the Great Lakes Planetarium Association, which mentions that the Argus Planetarium was the only school planetarium at the time.
e) Projectors:
* Spitz A-1 serial #104 (installed by Armand Spitz) operated 1956 to 2002 September; run from a central console, with two slide projectors and a monaural sound system. This projector became unusable due to multiple mechanical failures and lack of suitable star lamps.
* Digistar 3SP operated 2003 February to Present; the entire theater was renovated. The cloth dome was replaced with a metal one and the seats were replaced with movable seats in a unidirectional configuration.
f) Dome: 24 foot cloth dome with internal metal ribs (these ribs were NOT pocketed, as were the later cloth domes)
g) Seating: 63 auditorium style seats in 2 concentric circles
h) Planetarium Directors:
* Dr. John Rosemergy (1956 to 1986)
* Stephen A. Schaffer (1986 to Present)

-- Information for this entry, courtesy of Stephen A. Schaffer, Director of the Argus Planetarium, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

3) Zeiss ZKP1 Planetarium Projectors manufactured specifically for schools, in the 1930s.

-- Information for this entry, courtesy of Kevin Conod, Planetarium Manager/Astronomer of the Dreyfuss Planetarium, The Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey.

4) United States Air Force Academy Planetarium, Colorado Springs, Colorado -
Certainly, the most prominent of the planetaria located in schools, and it was probably one of the first to be permanently located in an institution of post-secondary education. It operated free-of-charge to nearly four million members of the general public from 1959 March until 2004 July 30. Originally using a Spitz Model B, this planetarium chamber now houses a Digistar II Projector.

-- Information for this entry, courtesy Mickey D Schmidt, Director, USAF Academy Planetarium, Battlespace Awareness Warfighting Laboratory, USAF Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Oldest Planetarium ?

More on the oldest planetarium debate
and history of Buhl Planetarium

Links to History of Planetaria in the World

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

-- Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss *** Updated: 2004 October