by Patrick Rizzo
Patrick Rizzo wrote the original version of this history in 1967. At that time the Eyepiece was a mimeographed newsletter. I first saw a photocopied version of this in 1997. I saw that he had put a great deal of work into making this article. I also realized the great value of keeping this record and making it available to whoever would like to know about the early history of our organization. Rizzo’s style includes much recording of lists of names. Many people today might not appreciate such detail. Anyone who reads this will soon come to see that the AAA had a fine history with many different activities taking place. These activities helped enlighten many people, most of whom do not get recognized here. This is an organization that has touched many lives. Here in a small way is a part of that story. Mr. Rizzo’s original text contained many errors and typos. This is understandable considering the fact that it was difficult to correct a mimeographed copy. One would not expect a highly polished work to appear. Still the amount of labor that he put into this deserves recognition. Stew Rorer was kind enough to scan the copy of this history into an electronic format. I tried to correct as many of the spelling and grammatical errors as was possible. I did this while trying to keep to his original words as much as possible. Stew also found many errors that I had overlooked. Susan Forma then did some extensive proofreading. Without their help this history would not have been possible.
Patrick Rizzo passed away on December 5, 1998. This article is a tribute to his hard work.
November 6, 1999
At the 35th Anniversary Dinner of the Amateur Astronomers Association, I had been asked to give a talk on the history of our society. Because of time limitations I could only hope to present anecdotes of isolated occurrences which would throw some light on the efforts that had culminated in the association we then enjoyed. Yet as I spoke of these events, I began to realize that none of them were isolated and separate entities. They somehow all seemed connected to the past, attached to it by similarities, by threads of tradition, and by the links forged with that enthusiasm for astronomy shared by all our members. This sense of continuity in the happenings of the club, which indicated that it had a history that ought to be put on paper, was symbolized for me by the final anecdote I related. It concerned a slide show that had been presented twice under the auspices of the AAA. That I was the only one who had been in the audience on both showings of these mostly-the-same slides was not the remarkable thing. Neither was the fact that although the man who commented on the slides on the first occasion was not the same person who showed the slides on the second. Both were members of the AAA.
What I had found fascinating was that for the first showing of these slides in the American Museum of Natural History, the commentator was a vice-president of our society. He was one in that early band of helpers who devoted much time and energy to the fulfillment of the dream of establishing in New York a strong astronomy club and an ample Planetarium. For the second showing in the Hayden Planetarium 26 1/2 years later, the commentator was an astronomer on the staff of that planetarium. The former was David B. Pickering; the latter his son, James S. Pickering! In December 1932 the lecture was entitled, “When the Astronomical World Comes to Town. ” At the May 1959 Observing Group meeting it was called, “Pictorial Astronomers of Yesteryear.” This made for me a strange but non-illusory deja vu, consisting of photos taken by David Pickering.
1924 – 1927
This transfer of the life pulse of our organization from one individual to another, which has maintained it so vigorously, had its start before our association was formed. The Amateur Astronomers Association had a past even before it began. New York amateur astronomy had had many devotees in the century preceding the birth of our club. However, the years 1924 and 1925 brought a conjunction of astronomical events that created a tide of enthusiasm that spilled over into an enduring fount of organized activity. Mars and the earth were closer together on August 22, 1924 than they would be for a long time. On January 24, 1925 New York witnessed a total eclipse of the Sun. Excitement ran high on both occasions. The newspapers became the media of supplying astronomical information of all sorts on the events. The Mars opposition was a wondrous sight seen from the dimly gas-lit streets of the suburbs, as I so viewed it. The excitement of the total eclipse has been described in part by us in Asterisks 1962, page 6.
The hub for a great amount of this excitement was the American Museum of Natural History. There, under the Division of Mineralogy, Geology and Geography, there was a sub-division with Dr. G. Clyde Fisher in charge.
This subdivision was in Astronomy. A significant issue of Natural History, the Journal of the American Museum, was its July- August 1926 one. This was an Astronomy Number. On its cover was a reproduction of the beautiful 1925 eclipse photo taken by Dr. Fisher from Jumel Mansion in New York City. Articles in it included ones by S. A. Mitchell, G.E. Hale and W. J. Luyten. Other papers dealt with plans for astronomy at the Museum, “An Ideal Astronomic Hall” by H. R. Butler, and, “The New Projection Planetarium” by Dr. Fisher. The latter was a description of the Zeiss Planetarium in Germany. Dr. Fisher was sent there by the Museum in September 1925. The purpose of the trip was to examine this apparatus with a view to its suitability for the proposed Hall of Astronomy. Needless to say he was much impressed, and strongly in favor of a planetarium for New York.
Thus the traditions of the Museum were already exerting their influences on the Association not yet in being. The Museum had already been practicing several traditions for many years. These included having meetings open to the public. At the birth of the Association it would follow these traditions. These would help bring about the success of the AAA.
There was an idea of having a planetarium and astronomical center at the Museum. What better way could there be to find out whether there would be a favorable response by the people of New York for this idea than to form an organized center of astronomical activity involving the people, amateurs and potential amateurs in astronomy? So it was done, with Dr. Fisher at the helm. At this point in the usual histories, there would be a biographical sketch of the founder. However, this is a short history of the Association and the life of all mentioned in it must be omitted except for those facets which concern the society. The facet that manifested itself at that point in our history was Dr. Fisher’s great charm. Before long the Museum would be sponsoring an astronomy club, aiding it financially, and putting at its disposal the facilities and personnel of the Museum. The club was to be collecting its own dues. Its members would not have to be members of the Museum. The two entities did share the common dream of bringing into existence a planetarium for New York. This reality was accomplished within 8 years by that teamwork.
Pursuant to a call for the purpose of organizing an astronomical society, a meeting was held on the evening of May 10, 1927, in the Duplex Assembly Hall of the School Service Building. The call had not been just an announcement. Dr. Fisher had laboriously collected the names of hundreds of persons who might be interested. Invitations were sent out to them. Tentatively the name suggested for the society was the People’s Astronomical Society of America.
The meeting was called to order by Dr. Fisher who stated that in the proposed society the only qualification for membership would be an interest in astronomy. Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn, President of the American Museum, gave an address of welcome. Attendance was estimated at 500. He stated that he believed the overwhelming response to the call augured well. Dr. Oswald Schlockow, District Superintendent, Public Schools of New York City and John A. Kingsbury, Secretary of the Milbank Memorial Fund, spoke on “The Need and Hope for an Astronomical Society.” George Sherwood, Director of the Museum, extended his greetings. Dr. Fisher was chosen Temporary President. He was authorized to appoint a committee to draft a constitution and by-laws, also often termed the charter. 340 applications for membership were signed at the meeting; however, not all joined. Those members in at the birth of the club were referred to as charter members.
On May 26, 1927 the second meeting was held and Worcester Reed Warner of Warner and Swasey Company spoke on “Helpful Hints for Amateurs.” After adjournment, a tradition still in existence was started; members went out to observe the celestial objects then visible through a telescope. The third meeting was held on June 9, 1927 and Oliver P. Medsger, a teacher of astronomy at Lincoln High School, Jersey City, gave a talk on eclipses. William Hoary brought to the meeting a photo of the sun made the day before by himself.
At the 4th meeting, June 23, 1927, the Constitution and by-laws were adopted making the name of the society the Amateur Astronomers Association. Its object was to promote the study of Astronomy by non-technical methods and to emphasize the cultural and inspirational value of the subject. Regular membership was to be $2.00 a year. The meetings were to be held twice monthly except during July and August, at the American Museum.
The nominating committee of 0. P. Medsger and C. W. Elmer placed the following names before the meeting: Clyde Fisher, president; Stansbury Hagar, 1st vice-president; George Galliver, 2nd vice-president; M. Louise Rieker, secretary; Harry Lawton, treasurer. 3rd and 4th vice-presidents nominated from the floor were Fairfax Naulty and Oswald Schlockow.
The first meeting of the then called Executive Committee, which comprised the officers just mentioned, was held on September 30, 1927. It was decided to have an Executive Council to serve with the officers of the Association in the administration of its business. At the membership meeting of October 6, the following were chosen; 0. W. Elmer, 0. Medsger C. S. Brainin, C. T. Liebman, W. Henry, W. Kaempffert (the latter was unable to serve). It would be wrong to suppose, however, that the doings of the officials alone make up the history of the society. It was just as much the other way. The most active cores of the general membership, anonymous in the official records, were always a tremendous factor pointing the way the Association was moving.
Thus, from the beginning, the keynote was simplicity, an assurance of success. This tradition has continued. Even today all our present by-laws fit easily on 8 ordinary typewritten pages. They are available in our office. They have been amended from time to time. When this is done the repealed sections are omitted and the amendments are incorporated into the original articles rather then appended. The last time being by the present writer in 1964 when he became secretary. (Editor’s note: this article was written in 1967.)
Also the politics was eschewed right from the start of the club. Since this is an interpretive history, in the writer’s opinion, this avoidance was a stroke of genius. This involved no encroachment on the time and efforts of those doing the voluntary day to day work. These workers did not have to use their energies on elaborate election set-ups involving written mail ballots. That time not lost went into the enjoyment-and-edification activities of the club. There is, of course, nothing wrong with a rich club having a provision for club politics. It is true that for some time our society was able to make token honorarium, payments to the office help, but that situation did not last.
By the October 20, 1927 meeting there were 299 paid up members. At that meeting Dr. C. S. Brainin, an AAA’er who was an astronomer at Columbia University, spoke on “The Solar System”. Thus started the custom of inviting well-known professional astronomers from universities and observatories to address the group.
Meanwhile the Association was getting abundant publicity. Articles by T. C. Hickey of the N.Y. Sun, G. P. Serviss of the N.Y. Evening Journal, Dr. E. E. Free of the N.Y. Herald-Tribune, and W. Kaempffert in the N. Y. Times, carried news of astronomical doings. These writers were all members of the Association. J. Otis Swift also gave us publicity in his newspaper column. On November 17, 1927, Russell W. Porter introduced the members to the world of telescope making in a lecture. December 15, 1927 marked the first time Harlow Shapley lectured to our club. He described current research at Harvard College Observatory.
1928 – 1930
On January 5, 1928 there was the first AAA showing of a motion picture, “Heavenly Bodies”. At the January 19 meeting AAA’er David B. Pickering, who was also president of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, gave his first AAA talk, this one entitled “The Romance of Variable Stars”. 400 people were present. At the February 2 meeting Dr. Fisher announced that Garrett P. Serviss was chosen our first Honorary Member in recognition of his great contribution toward the popularizing of astronomy. Our first female lecturer was Professor Anne S. Young of Mt. Holyoke College. She described the eclipse in England in 1927. Leon Campbell spoke on March 15. “Life on Mars” had to be a topic some day and Dr. Frank Schlesinger of Yale did the honors on April 19, 1928. Thus the AAA procession of famous astronomers on our podium was well under way. On May 3, 1928 a somewhat revised Constitution and By-Laws was accepted containing 7 articles, but happily, the regular dues remained at $2.00. The first season was about to end and Dr. Fisher appointed Medsger, Liebman and Pickering as the nominating committee. After the meeting, members viewed the moon with T. Wyber’s 10-inch refractor from the Museum grounds. On May 17 the following were elected: Fisher, president; Hagar, Galliver, Schlockow, Elmer, vice-presidents; Rieker, secretary; Liebman, treasurer. The Executive Council was chosen and included Medsger, Henry, Bromine Pickering, Benner, and Kingsbury. Provision was made for a summer program of observing in the Palisades.
By October 5, 1928, the AAA was out on the streets with telescopes for public observing at Union Square, Madison Square, Bryant Park and Columbus Circle, but this was a short-lived activity. Harlen T. Stetson gave his first AM talk on October 17, 1928 on Sunspots. Meanwhile study groups in astronomy had been under way; Messers Shogren Culp, and Benner conducting them, outdoor sessions being at the 77 Street approach.
By December 19, 1928 the Association was so financially secure that it was felt it could pay expenses without the financial help of the Museum. On January 16, 1929 W. R. Warner was made second Honorary Member. Speakers in the following months included Drs. H. D. Curtis, C. H. Gingrich, S. Nicholson J. H. Pitman, W. J. Eckert, H. N. Russell, J. W. Fecker, Olivier and Duncan. On April 30, 1929, 740 members were enrolled, however, 223 were in arrears. Miss Jean Conklin was now conducting the Group Study Class. O B. Pickering was chosen on May 15 to be the 5th vice-president. On June 6, our first speaker from abroad, Dr. W. H. Steavenson, spoke on “William Herschel and his Work.”
At the May 1, 1929 meeting Dr. Fisher had called attention to the first number of our publication The Amateur Astronomer, Vol. 1, No. 1, April, 1929. It had on its first page a picture of the Orion Nebula. Professor Russel’s AAA lecture on the sun was reported. Dr. Brainin was the editor. A one-page supplement contained a photostatic copy of a letter of greetings from Albert Einstein to our society. A partial translation of his words now appears in Enjoy the Stars and Eyepiece.
Elizabeth Eckels was appointed to the Council on September 18, 1929. Previously she was working on the formation of the Junior Astronomy Club. Through our treasurer, Charles Liebman, Radio Station WOR broadcast astronomy talks. This arrangement continued for many years. The first talks were given by Fisher, Brainin, Schlockow and explorer Fiala. The talks lasted 15 minutes.
On November 6, 1929, a record crowd of 3,000 people came to our meeting to see a motion picture on Einstein’s theory. The film had to be shown twice as there was a long waiting line outside the hall. The film was shown again at the January 8, 1930 meeting. The February 1930 Amateur Astronomer makes it quite evident that a riot of sorts had occurred even though the official records of the Council are silent on the matter. The Museum attendants were swept off their feet by the crowd and had to call in the police. The first page of the Amateur Astronomer reproduced a cartoon that had appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle entitled, “Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties”, which showed a tight swirling mass of people attempting to enter the auditorium. In answer to the newspaper stories of the event the Amateur Astronomer had its own editorial which stated, “…it seems to have been such a good-natured and well-intentioned proceeding that the AAA can really feel somewhat proud of having been the instigator. We wonder if a parallel occurrence can be found in modern history. Perhaps in the heyday of Greek culture in Alexandria a similar pro-science rush may have been seen, but most riots that had their basis in a scientific connection have been distinctly anti-scientific.”
On April 28, 1930 Dr. Fisher went up in a biplane from Newark Airport for his first time in the air to photograph a partial eclipse of the sun. He used a Graflex camera with a Zeiss f/4.5 lens from an altitude of 18,200 feet. He wore helmet and goggles, the camera was handled with bare hands at a temperature of 18 below zero. The trip had been suggested to him only a couple of hours before by the husband of Mrs. Kunz, the pilot.
Total attendance at meetings for 1928 had been 8,636; for 1929, 12,528. At the December 18, 1929 Council meeting it was resolved that the Association be incorporated. Attorney Charles E. Manierre offered to contribute his services to prepare papers for the incorporation of the Association.
The original Certificate of Incorporation is dated May 7, 1930. It was executed by 13 members and was signed by the officers Fisher, Hagar, Elmer Pickering and Liebman. The Certificate was approved by William H. Black, Justice of the Supreme Court, First Judicial District, County of N.Y. on December 22, 1930 and was filed in the office of the Secretary of State, Albany, N.Y. December 30, 1930. It was filed in the office of the N.Y. County Clerk, January 8, 1931. The Certificate provides for 13 directors, and states that there shall be an annual meeting on the 3rd Wednesday of May in each year. The only change ever made was on March 20, 1936. A Certificate of Change of Authorized number of Directors of the AAA Inc. was executed by Fisher and Federer. The change reads “That the number of Directors of said Corporation shall be not less than three and not more than twenty-one.” This was filed in the Dept. of State, Albany, N.Y, on March 30, 1936 and in the N.Y. County clerk’s office on April 3, 1936.
The Amateur Astronomers Association, Inc. now entered a new phase, and under unusual conditions, for the mighty depression was waxing strong. Whether it had an adverse effect on the club is open to question. On the one hand a potential loss of $193.86 was sustained with the failure of the Bank of the United States. Our treasurer, C. Liebman, on January 7, 1931, offered to balance it with a virtual gift for the amount, it to be repaid to him should the bank ever come up with the money. Also people at that time generally had little money to spend on entertainment, trips, and expensive courses. What better way to pass the evening than a pleasant, free, illustrated, lecture given by the AAA at a place in the city where a carefree night-stroll through Central Park could precede or follow the meeting!
Meanwhile in October 1930 Marian Lockwood had become a Council member. A participant in the lecture program in 1930 was H. S. Rice who pointed out celestial objects after the meetings. On March 19, 1930 E. W. Brown spoke on “Time and Tide”. On November 11, 1930, Dr. Abetti lectured on “Galileo”.
There were now about 800 members in the club. Miss Conklin and Mr. Shogren continued as instructors of the Study Group. Charles it. Federer Jr. also taught. Miss Conklin gave a series of 5 talks on the moon on Station WOR in January. On January 7, 1931, Dr. Philip Fox, Director of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago spoke to the AAA. This resulted indirectly in an intensified drive for a New York Planetarium. Noted people were recruited to write letters to the Museum about it. On April 15, Dr. Swope spoke on “Variable Stars in the Milky Way.” In the May 1931 elections the following were chosen: Fisher, president; Galliver, Schlockow Elmer, Brainin Medsger vice-presidents; Liebman, treasurer; J. A. Kingsbury, secretary. The other Board members were Hagar, Henry Pickering, R. E. Lee and 0. H. Caldwell. (The latter was editor of Electronics and a member of the Federal Communications Commission.)
On December 2, 1931, Dr. Caldwell spoke on the “Electric Eye.” He predicted that stars hitherto invisible would be made visible by it. The Columbia Broadcasting Company and Jenkins Television Company made it possible for the members at the meeting to see a simulated eclipse of the sun. Models were set up in the television studio of Columbia Broadcasting Company. President Fisher taxied down to the studio and dramatically appeared before the AAA audience during the intermission. He explained how the coming eclipse of August 31, 1932 might be televised. An eclipse committee was formed with Leo Mattersdorf and H.Lawton.
Early in 1932 Dr. Schilt of Columbia lectured on “Star Counts.” In March S. A. Mitchell was the lecturer. WOR radio talks were given by Federer Quesad and Mattersdorf. In the summer of 1932, Dr. Fisher took aerial photos of Meteor Crater, often reprinted in books. On August 31, 1932 eclipse observations were the order of the day. Again Dr. Fisher was above the clouds. His pilot was the famous one with the ominous sounding name, Casey Jones. Paula Lind was co-pilot. Leopold Godowsky, the pianist, was a passenger. They took off from Portland, Maine and photographed the moon’s shadow. Leo Mattersdorf reported the eclipse as seen from Wolfeboro, N.H. The total phase was visible through thin clouds. Baily’s beads were seen. On October 19, 1932 the first AAA Eclipse Symposium took place. Participating were T. S. Andrews, who showed graphs of the eclipse. Messers Harvey, Lind, Rosenberger, Saville, Johnsrud, Fisher, Clark and Mattersdorf. They showed pictures and recounted their experiences from the various sites.
Dr. Fisher gave many of the WOR radio talks at the beginning of 1933. On February 1, Charles A. Federer Jr. lectured to the AAA. Dr. Furness spoke on “Sunspots” at the February 15 meeting. Mrs. Virginia Geiger was now editing the meteor notes for the Amateur Astronomer. Chosen for the 1933-34 season were Fisher, president; Brainin, Medsger, R. E. Lee, Caldwell, vice- presidents; Liebman, treasurer; Lockwood, secretary. Also directors were Geiger, Hagar, Henry, Kingsbury, Mattersdorf, A. 0. Morrison. Classes were given by Fisher, Shogren Federer and Ramiro Quesada the latter conducting a class in Telescope-Making. It was announced that the Hayden Planetarium would soon be in existence. The building was made possible by a loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the instrument by a gift from Charles Hayden. Other lecturers in 1933 were John Miller, Charles Smiley, Capt. Hellweg T. Richey. On Dec. 14 the first working session of the Telescope class was lead by Quesada. On October 4, 1933, John Kingsbury lectured on “Visit to a Strange Planet”. Some left the meeting because of dislike of the subject, for the lecturer spoke on “The Soviet Union!”
On October 18, 1933 Annie T. Cannon spoke on “Unraveling Stellar Secrets.” As a supplement Dr. Caldwell and Karl Jansky of the New York Electrical Society demonstrated “Hearing Radio From Stars.” An anonymous commentator on the meeting stated that the crowd of 584 was that large merely because this was a joint meeting with the Electrical Society. Had the people of that day known what Radio Astronomy was to become in importance, we might then have had another rush-for-seats riot on our hands!
Charles Federer became a member of the Board in 1934. By autumn 1934, the steel structure was up for the Planetarium building and by Spring 1935, the copper covering on the dome had been completed. One of the early Field Trips occurred on May 18, 1935 when the Advanced Class visited Bell Laboratories Experimental Station at Deal, N.J. These trips were a recent specialty of the AAA and were enjoyed by many.
The Hayden Planetarium was opened to the public on October 3, 1935. However, one dream never did materialize, an observatory on top one of the Museum buildings. Yet, as a dream, who is to say it did not have positive value to members and potential members of the AAA. By now there were 16 members in the Telescope class. Roy Seely was depicted in the Autumn 1935 Amateur Astronomer with the unique telescope he had made.
Under the auspices of the AAA an astronomical exhibit took place in the Education Hall of the Museum from January 25 through February 9, 1938 with Mrs. Geiger the chairman of it. Attractions were the immense Foucault pendulum, models of the moon’s surface and astronomical photographs. 15,000 people visited the exhibit, a memorable event in our history.
During the Thirties, the custom of informal pre-lecture dinners with the speaker, attended by interested members, was begun. As I sit writing this in our office, Abe Oshinsky has just come in to pay for his 40th Anniversary Dinner reservation. I am reminded that he always had a fondness for AAA dinners, having seen his name on a list of guests at the pre-lecture dinner for speaker Maud Makemson an October 19, 1938.
Early in 1935 a committee to revise the By-Laws, with Leo Mattersdorf as chairman, had been appointed. On May 15, 1935 chosen were; Fisher, president; Caldwell, Brainin, Henry, Mattersdorf, vice-presidents; Liebman, treasurer; Lockwood, secretary. Also on the Board were, R. E. Lee, Geiger, Hager, Morrison, Federer and Meadow. The latter was an active instructor of AAA classes for many years. Until the advent of the Planetarium, there had been hardly any place where an adult could obtain education in astronomy except in our classes. The courses we gave became very popular and very important. Branches of the Public Library at this time had only two or three books on astronomy.
Federer became secretary as of January 16, 1936 when Miss Lockwood resigned. On January 29, 1936 Arthur Draper was appointed to the Board to replace Hr. Hagar. On April 8, 1936 Mattersdorf presented the revised By-Laws. At the May 20, 1936 meeting, Dr. Fisher stated his desire not to be elected president for the coming year because of work in connection with the Planetarium where he was Curator. On May 20, 1936 the By-Laws were adopted by the Board of Directors. It was announced that Mr. Hall donated 200 books to the AAA Library. On June 1, 1936 Dr. Orestes H. Caldwell become our second president.
At the October 7, 1936 Board meeting a resolution was passed to the effect that The Sky be the official publication of the Association. It was published by the Planetarium and Marian Lockwood represented us on it.
The Association was now entering a new phase of its existence for a relationship with the Hayden Planetarium was forming. The situation was unique in that some individuals directly involved with the destiny of the entity known as the Planetarium were also firmly attached to the Association. The ties, the bonds, were so strong that these individuals, when participating in a particular astronomical activity, probably had no clear line of demarcation fixed in their minds as to whether they were acting Planetarium-wise or Association-wise. Oddly enough, this was beneficial for both entities. It worked because both had the same ideal: to promote the study of astronomy and to emphasize the cultural and inspirational value of the subject.
The first issue of Sky made its appearance in November 1936 and went to all AAAers. It told of our new office in the basement of the Roosevelt Memorial Building of the Museum, It announced the classes being given by Meadow, Federer Silver and Quesada, 1936 radio talks were now, being given over WHN. On December 20, 1936 a Field Trip to the Naval Observatory was very successful. On October 30, 1936 the secretary had been authorized to organize an Optical Division of the Association and he reported on January 15, 1937 that it was organized. In early 1937 dues were increased to $3.00 for regular membership, $50.00 for life membership, because of the cost of Sky.
There was a Hayden Planetarium-Grace expedition to view the Solar Eclipse in Peru on June 8, 1937. Dr. Fisher was on it. On Memorial Day, there was a wonderful trip to Harvard Observatory’s Cambridge and Oak Ridge Stations, where Dr. Shapley and Dr. Cannon welcomed the visitors. Jesse Greenstein was one of the graduate students demonstrating the patrol cameras.
Exhibit “B” rules for the Optical Division of the AAA were adopted on October 21, 1937. (Supplementary rules were adopted, June 20, 1945.) Mr. Lou Lojas was first chairman of the Optical Division Supervising Committee. On the Committee were Earle B. Brown, Robert Cox, Ed Hanna, C. Grosswendt and Richard S. Luce. The workshop in the Planetarium had been made available to us.
Soon the AAA was to be immersed in another dream presented to the O.D. in the form of a 20-inch blank for a mirror. What observatory plans for it, what publicity it provided, what interest in amateur astronomy it provoked! That it never materialized as an AAA telescope does not mean it was a failure. It had its glory and value as a dream and its reality for the club that now has it, the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society.
AAA instructors were now Federer, Meadow, Wolterding, Trupin, Rothschild, Cox, Scheuer. On October 21, 1937 membership was 422. Hazel Boyd, John B. Kreischer and Grace C. Scholz were now on the Board. Hazel Boyd had been active in the observing activities at the Mosholu Golf Links along with Sam Roth.
On April 20, 1938 the Optical Division had 42 members. 41 mirrors were made. Machinery had been purchased. The O.D. had become a pathfinder for many ATM clubs throughout the nation. A notable list of O.D. instructors was to appear in the following years, including Clyde, Thompson, Luce, Singer, Lojas, Brown, Howland, Brower, Kada, Mackintosh, Dawes, Frey, Seely, Parry, Cox, Schmidt, Churns, Roth Aime, Simpson, Dorfman and Peretz. Allyn Thompson’s book on Telescope Making was worked out from data acquired in OD experiences. It became a guide for many Telescope Makers throughout the world.
On June 1, 1938 Dr. C. S. Brainin became president and Henry T. Kirkebye treasurer. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York was to be reckoned with. However, it did not interfere with the May 27-28, 1939 Field Trip to the Naval Observatory which 60 members enjoyed, as they did the trip to Blue Mountain on June 24. Peekskill was to become an enduring custom, where observing and fun were the attractions. New Board members were Earle Brown and Richard Luce in 1939. George Plachy was now leading the AAA Instruction Committee.
In connection with the Fair, the AAA sent out a call for a Nationwide Convention of Amateur Astronomers, with a National Exhibition to be held in the Museum from July 30 to August 20, 1939. Ten societies were to participate. On August 19, the participants at the Convention visited the Fair where they heard Professor Shapley speak. They also were treated to a special Planetarium showing. They heard Reverend Lynch of Fordham talk on the seismograph at the Museum session. At a banquet Leslie Peltier, who had been made an Honorary Member of the AAA on April 3, 1939, was the guest of honor.
In October 1939 an agreement was entered into between the Museum-Planetarium Authority, the AAA, Sky Publishing Corporation, and Charles & Helen Federer concerning the future of SkySky remained the official bulletin of the AAA. The AAA now had 500 members. Radio talks were on WINS.
In early 1940 Leo Mattersdorf spoke on “The coming transit of Mercury” and Dr. Gartlein of Cornell lectured on “The Aurora Borealis.” A brochure Enjoy The Stars, to advertise our doings was proposed. George Plachy was now leading the Constellation Study Group. On November 20, 1940 Dr. Bart J Bok lectured on “The Rotation of the Galaxy.” In February 1941 George V. Plachy became a member of the Board of Directors. A very successful Field Trip to New Haven and Yale took place on Memorial Day 1941. On September 30, 1941 Charles Federer, who was to edit the now Sky & Telescope, resigned as secretary.
George Plachy succeeded him on October 1, 1941. Jane Davis became a member of the Board. Two excellent lectures closed the year; Dr. Whipple on the Meteor Speedometer, and Dr, George Gamow on the Birth and Death of the Sun.
In 1942 the war made itself felt. Earle Brown, W. W. Benjamin, Sidney Scheuer, all active members, had to resign their posts when they went into the service. Max Trupin and R. S. Dodson filled vacancies on the Board.
Dr. Brainin had been operating an astronomical news service since 1915 with 15 newspapers involved. He offered it to the AAA, and, henceforth, for many years our assistant secretary, Jane Davis, took it over. It was partly mimeographed. It contained a monthly sky map designed by Edgar Paulton. AAA members also subscribed to it at a nominal charge.
For the 1942-43 season there was a class on Meteorology conducted by Jane E. Burden. Notable lectures that season were by Spitzer, Bok, Harwood, Robert Wolff, Lynch, Gartlein, Fisher, and van de Kamp. Peter A. Leavens donated Camera Station equipment to the AAA in April. He was to direct the AAA Camera Station for several years, the station had been the site for meteor observing and lunar eclipse observing. In the 1943-44 season van de Kamp and Wolff were again lecturers. Other speakers were Rice, Schilt Mattersdorf.
But the war was having its effect. The lectures for 1944-45 were held monthly instead of twice a month. Old favorites were back, Federer, Fisher, Olivier, Eckert, and Korff. New classes were being tried – Antoinette Pridmore conducted a Physics Review. Other instructors were Edgar Paulton, Leon Gold, Samuel Silver and Peter Leavens. Edgar Paulton and Allyn Thompson were to become Board members. Leavens described monthly Sky Events at the meetings.
On July 9, 1945 the AAA Total Eclipse expedition at Butte, Montana was very successful. George Plachy described the results at the October 3, 1945 meeting. Color and Black and White photos had been taken. Life magazine published AAA photos. A full description of the event appeared in the October 1945 Sky & Telescope written by George Plachy. On December 18, 1945 AAAers made a trip to Sayville, L.I. to photograph the lunar eclipse from the AAA Camera Station. The Optical Division now had 50 members.
For the 1946-47 season the returned W. Benjamin taught a class in elementary astronomy. Edgar Paulton taught intermediate astronomy. The latter was completing the design for the AAA Emblem so familiar to us since 1947. Dr. Atwater of the Planetarium was one of our lecturers. Outdoor meetings were conducted in connection with the Appreciation in Astronomy Course being given. There were now 600 members in the club.
On April 21, 1948 Russell W. Porter was the first recipient of the AAA Medal given for meritorious service to astronomy by amateurs. Robert Knittel directed the Camera Station. 75 members participated in a Field Trip to Harvard Observatory. On November 22, 1948 there was a Field Trip to Vassar under the leadership of Marion Louis. Lecturers for the 1948-49 season included Stetson, Brouwer, Kaplan, Farnsworth, Merrill and Smiley, the latter speaking on the Zodiacal Light.
On January 7, 1949 the AAA was saddened to learn of the death of Dr. Fisher. Thus another phase in the history of the AAA had come to a close. His influence, however, was never to cease. The Board decided that an annual lecture would be given in his honor. The season ended with a Field Trip to the Philadelphia area on May 28-30.
On May 17, 1950 Leslie Peltier was awarded the 2nd AAA Medal. By this time there were 700 AAAers. Dr. George Gamow gave a long-remembered lecture on April 5, 1950 on Creation and Evolution of the Universe. Inflation was setting in. Sky & Telescope was to cost us more. Also Museum facilities expenses had increased. On June 1, 1951 the regular dues were increased to $5.00.
On October 3, 1951 Willy Ley gave the First Clyde Fisher Memorial Lecture. Other Lecturers for the 1951-52 season included Earle Brown, Dorrit Hoffleit, Lyman Spitzer and Robert Coles. The latter being Chairman of the American-Museum Hayden Planetarium. New courses were under way for the season; Star Identification given by Patrick Rizzo, Recent Advances In Astronomy was now under the direction of Mary Schiffmann. W. W. Benjamin was still giving the Elementary Class. The Home Study Course was conducted by Aileen Pindar. Dr. Smiley was Clyde Fisher Memorial Lecturer. Three more AAA Medals were awarded to A. G. Ingalls, R. A. Halbach, and D. W. Rosebrugh. Te Ata Fisher, the widow of Dr. Fisher, honored us with her presence on the podium. The president for the 1953-53 season was Leo Mattersdorf. A new amendment to the By-Laws having gone into effect whereby no officer, except the secretary and treasurer, could serve more than two consecutive (one-year) terms in the same office.
On June 19, 1952 President Mattersdorf formally requested Edgar M. Paulton to be Chairman of a committee to organize a new Observing Group. For several years there had been an Observers or Observing Group under the leadership of Robert Clyde. Despite his tenacity the group had slowly declined. Only several members were participating in the observing conducted in Central Park. A new format was sorely needed. So on July 23, 1952 the new committee met for the first time. The other members of it were R. Knittel, C. R. Mallett, Mary Ann O’Donnell, E. Oravec, P. Rizzo and K. Weitzenhoffer. They formulated a tentative program for the new group. A call for support of it was sent out to all AAAers. On November 7, 1952 in Room 129 of the Museum 26 members attended the first general meeting of the Observing Group. On December 20 Arthur Pearlmutter and Antoinette Pridmore were added to the Committee. In the first year of the O.G. 37 members were enrolled in it.
So was launched a Group that was to profoundly change the AAA once again. Nothing else was to have such an impact until 1955. Then the AAA was no longer to have the Museum as its headquarters, and regular dues had to climb to $10.00 per annum. The O.G. was to have a whole history in itself that could fill volumes, but which we cannot detail here.
Were this not an interpretive history it could end at this point since subsequent AAA events are described fully in two publications that fill several huge volumes on the shelves of the AAA Library. One of them is The Eyepiece, which started out in April 1953 as a bulletin called Oh-Gee Observations. This was not considered a dignified enough title, so on the suggestion of W. V. Benjamin, its name was changed to The Eyepiece.
This renaissance in the activities of the Association caused by the O.G. permeated the rest of the club. In October 1953, the Publicity and Membership Committee under the direction of Marion Louis decided to have a bulletin of its own. By December 1953 P. Rizzo gave it the name Skylines.
From these two bulletins one learned that the Observing Group was holding monthly meetings in Room 129 of the Museum. Here guest speakers eminent in the observing field were invited to lecture. At some meetings there were general discussions pertaining to observing. The Chairman of the Observing Group was Edgar Paulton. Sub-groups were observing and instructing from various sites in the various boroughs. The O.G. had attracted some young members and many were the adventures that occurred in the process of observing. Under the tutelage of Edward Oravec a passion for observing variable stars had its beginning. O.G. dues were $2.00 and wisely never raised.
Meanwhile, during the 1953-54 season Federer, Whipple, S. Scheuer, S. Silver, and Wolff were AAA lecturers. New Board members were Marion Louis, Aileen Pindar, Antoinette Pridmore, and Roy Seely. On June 1, 1954 W. Wallace Benjamin became president. This had followed a short term from May 19, 1954 to June 1, 1954 for Mrs. Virginia Geiger as president in recognition of the long time she had served the AAA.
The big event in 1954 was to be the June 30, 1954 Total Solar Eclipse. Also on January 18, 1953 there had been a lunar eclipse. There was observing at the Planetarium, where the O.D. and O.G. cooperated with the Planetarium staff in providing viewing for the public. Twelve telescopes were set up. The Camera Station under R. Knittel was active in photographing this eclipse. The Peekskill Weekend occurred on February 19-22, and as much fun and observing were enjoyed there then, as in the summer. May 29-31 witnessed another Field Trip to the Philadelphia area. Leroy McMorris described it in Skylines.
Solar Eclipse Day was a success all around. There were four main locales of activity. An Eclipse Supplement to The Eyepiece gave many of the details. Leo Mattersdorf and several members were atop the RCA Building working with NBC, Ben Grauer, and Dave Garroway, to televise the partial eclipse. They used an opal screen devised by AAAer Joseph Glatz. At the Museum a number of OG’ers including Chairman Paulton were making photometric measurements. George Plachy led the AAA Eclipse Committee Expedition. It included Dr. Brainin, his wife, P. Rizzo, R. Knittel, W. Benjamin, H. A. Rey, A. Pindar and Horace and Antoinette Pridmore. They observed from the path of totality in a suburb of Minneapolis. Motion pictures and stills were made, the latter with the 10-foot camera of the AAA. Life magazine again published a sample of the AAA expedition’s photos. “Expedition Blackout” was the name given to the team of OG’ers. They observed totality from Ironwood, Michigan. They included Cuevas, Oravec, De Gennaro, Glenn, Haupt, and Weitzenhoffer. A Cuevas photo won 2nd prize in the Sky & Telescope contest. Other AAAers who saw totality were Jane Burden and the Dodsons from Copper Harbor where the Astronomical League was meeting.
On February 19, 1955, Suite 1010 of the Hotel Lucerne at 201 West 79 St. became the Headquarters of the AAA. However drastic this was for the financial situation of the AAA, it changed relatively little our relationship with the Museum and the Planetarium. It is true our classes were no longer in the Museum. This was offset by the O.G. monthly meetings finding a home in the Planetarium on the invitation of its Chairman, Joseph Chamberlain. The most drastic change was the increase dues to $10.00 for regular membership. This lowered the number of our members. Dr. Shapley was Fisher Memorial lecturer on Oct. 5, 1955. H. A. Rey conducted the Constellation Study Class in the 1955-56 season. On June 1, 1956 Robert L. Frey became president, with two new Directors, Rizzo, Fitzenrider.
On May 18, 1957 the 30th Anniversary Dinner took place at Stouffer’s Restaurant. Guest Speaker was Dr. J. Hynek. AAA Medals were awarded to Mme. Flammarion and J. W. Gagan. It was announced that Mrs. Pridmore was the new secretary of the AAA. Present, as honored guests, were Mr. & Mrs. Chamberlain, Dr. & Mrs. Van de Kamp, Dr. Schilt, and the Strom family.
Under the guidance of the O.G., a Moonwatch Team had been formed with Harry as Chairman. Conditions in New York sky lighting hampered its functioning with maximum efficiency. Still when Sputnik orbited the team was ready. They were atop the RCA Building on the morning of October 13, 1957. Sharp eyed Mary Churns spotted it first. Reporters, photographers and NBC TV were on hand. This resulted in a large amount of publicity for the AAA. On October 22 Charles Cuevas photographed Sputnik from Queens. By Sputnik we mean the carrier. Many of our young members were on the team and it took courage for the young ladies of our club to respond to a 3 a.m. alert in midwinter and travel by subway from the Bronx or Brooklyn to the RCA Building. This became the official Moonwatch Station.
Edward Oravec was now on the Board. Two excellent lectures occurred in the 1957-58 season. Dr. Schwartzschild spoke on “Astronomy from Skyhooks” and on April 2nd Dr. Hagan lectured on “Man Made Moons”. He showed motion pictures of the only successful launching of a Vanguard satellite.
On June 1, 1958 Edgar M. Paulton became president. Horace Pridmore became a member of the Board of Directors. This added one more duty to the many he had cheerfully performed over the years for the sake of the Association. Edward Graved became Chairman of the Observing Group. Margarita Espinosa was Chairman of the Field Trips Committee. Rizzo lead the AAA Instruction Committee. William Glenn was librarian and Stephen Maran our Publicity head. A Speakers Panel was formed to supply lecturers for clubs and schools.
On July 20, 1959 Dr. Clement S. Brainin died and the AAA lost another of its devoted and generous members. The Board now had several as newcomers on it; E. De Gennaro, W. Glenn, Richard Priest, Mary Schiffmann, E. Stern, K. Weitzenhoffer and J. G. Jaffe. Mr. Jaffa had been our Counsel for several years. The season 1959-60 brought us many interesting lecturers, AAA’er Dr. Fleischer, and Drs. Jastrow, de Vaucouleurs Beiser Morton and Mehlin.
Eclipse time had come around again. W. Glenn was appointed Chairman of the O.G. Eclipse Committee for the October 2, 1959 Total Solar Eclipse. Edgar Paulton prepared a shadow band program. In conjunction with it A. Kolkin and M. Roth helped him to construct a screen. The Eclipse Team, which included members of the Hudson River Museum Astronomy Club, met with the AAVSO at Nahant Massachusetts. AAA’er T. C. Basden had come all the way from Bermuda for the event. A hurricane had followed from near there. The rainy tail end of it coincided with eclipse hour. Only one OG’er saw totality. This was Jay Pasachoff , who was aboard a plane. Yet Glenn acquired a lot of eclipse data.
In October 1959 another AAA publication, Asterisks, had its start as an Instruction Committee annual. Soon learned journals were taking cognizance of it. There was a controversy in the pages of Science concerning the moon illusion. Drs. Rock and Kaufman quoted Asterisks in order to bolster their arguments.
An Asterisk paper on George Berkeley as a precursor of Einstein was cited in the Journal of Philosophy. This idea would later be generally accepted. The Walt Whitman Review mentioned the Asterisks article on Whitman as amateur astronomer. The Harvard archives on eclipse date includes the material described in the 1963 Asterisks by C. Cuevas. On June 1, 1960 our new address was 223 West 79 St. Our new president was Miss Pindar.
President Pindar appointed Donald Bradley editor of Skylines. Before this, on January 23, 1960, the O.G. held a banquet at Luchow’s. Dr. Franklin, of the Planetarium, was guest speaker. On March 13 the Observing Group observed a Total Eclipse of the Moon from the Fieldston School. Through the generosity of the School it had become a favorite site for O.G. observers. In June 1960 Arthur Pearlmutter became Chairman of the Group. The spring 1960 Meeting of the AAVSO was held in New York. The AAA and the Planetarium were the hosts. The 15th Annual Convention of the Astronomical League was held in Detroit on July 1-3, 1961. During it the AAA was officially represented as a member for the second year. Samuel Komoroff was now AAA Counsel and Frank Aime was a member of the Board. On June 1, 1962 Patrick Rizzo became president; Richard Priest, secretary; Jane Douglas and Arthur Pearlmutter, directors. Ken Fitzgerald was editing Skylines. Others who were active on the AAA roster included G. Lovi, A. James, H. Luft, A. Rieser, E. Socha, A. Ullmann. The 35th Anniversary Dinner took place at the Stockholm Restaurant, May 29, 1962. The guest speakers were Dr. Korff and Dr. van de Kamp. On October 17, 1962, another special lecture took place with Dr. van de Hulst.
In October 1962 the AAA first participated in the Jones Beach Evenings Of Stargazing. This was sponsored by the Long Island State Park Commission and Abraham & Straus. Soon AAA’ers were making long trips to the Beach in mid-winter to conduct the meetings. When the weather proved cloudy, the indoor session lengthened.
Some 50 members of the AAA traveled by bus to Orono, Maine to observe the July 20, 1963 Total Eclipse and to attend the Astronomical League Convention. The technique for observing Shadow Bands, initiated by Edgar Paulton, resulted in a number of screens being on hand. Unfortunately only the partial phase was seen because of rain. The O.G. met with the AAVSO also in Maine. They saw totality and photographed it. Cuevas had a 12-foot long camera and had excellent results. Langman photographed it from Cadillac Mountain. Johnston and Johanson were airborne. The president called a special meeting for Oct. 16, 1963 to let the members hear and see the reports of observations. The audience enjoyed the evening thoroughly.
In October 1963 Edward De Gennaro was Skylines editor. When he became O.G. Chairman on June 1, 1964, Mrs. Pridmore succeeded him as Skylines Chairman. Alfred Goldsmith became president on June 1, 1964; with Rizzo, secretary; and Pearlmutter, treasurer. New directors were A. Silvan, K. Fitzgerald, Helen Underwood. The Librarian was Jackson Curtis, a member since 1929. After a quarter of a century of service as treasurer, Henry Kirkebye had resigned upon retirement. Lecturers in the 1964-65 season were Whipple, Stothers, Westerhout.
On June 1, 1965 Board member Jane Burden who had been O.G. treasurer for many years also became treasurer of the AAA. New Directors were R. Barkey, Santhanan E. Dorfman, and Margarita Rosa. The latter was Chairman of the Membership Committee. The Committee held a party at our new office, 212 West 79 St. New York, for the members. Richard Borri became editor of Skylines. In connection with the proposed World Science Center Building, AAA members contributed more than $1600 to the Building Fund. On June 1, 1966 Antoinette Pridmore became president, Carmine Borzelli, new Chairman of the Observing Group became a Director. Gilbert T. Schmidling became the new Chairman of the Supervising Committee of the Optical Division. He succeeded Ernest Dorfman and also became a member of the Board. On October 30, 1966 the 12-inch Ryder Telescope had been dedicated at Jones Beach. Over 800 people attended. Dr. Nicholson, Chairman of the Planetarium, was special lecturer. Average attendance at the evenings of Stargazing in the 1966-67 season was 400. Thus, if we may pride ourselves a little – it can be said that the Amateur Astronomers Association is a credit to the Universe.