Guide to the Truman H. Safford (1836-1901) Papers

Collection Title: Truman H. Safford (1836-1901) Papers
Dates: 1850-1871
Identification: 29/4
Creator: Safford, Truman Henry, 1836-1901
Extent: 2 Boxes
Language of Materials: English
Abstract: Astronomer Truman Safford was the first director of the Dearborn Observatory (in its old location on the South Side of Chicago, before it was moved to Northwestern). The records consist mainly of notebooks in which he recorded observations, calculations and notes. Materials include Safford's teaching files from the Chicago University, astronomical observations, computations regarding celestial objects, extracts from astronomical catalogs and two manuscripts. One file contains biographical material.
Acquisition Information: The Truman H. Safford Papers were separated from the Records of the Dearborn Observatory (29/2) on August 1, 1982 as Accession #82-139. Material from teh Archives' Biographical Files was added in January, 2011.
Processing Information: Thomas J. Dorst, June, 1983.
Conditions Governing Access: None.
Repository: Northwestern University Archives
Deering Library, Room 110
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL, 60208-2300
URL: http://www.library.northwestern.edu/archives
Email: archives@northwestern.edu
Phone: 847-491-3354

Biographical/Historical Information

Truman Henry Safford was born January 6, 1836 in Royalton, Vermont, the son of Louisa Parker and Truman Hopson Safford. A child mathematical prodigy known as "the Vermont boy-calculator," he performed remarkable feats of computation, often jerking and muttering as his mind raced. He entered Harvard College in 1852 and, at the age of 18, graduated with honors two years later. Safford soon went to work in the Nautical Almanac Office and the Harvard College Observatory. He was associated with the Observatory first as assistant observer and then as acting director, until late in 1865, when he took a joint position as professor of astronomy (and mathematics) at the old University of Chicago and as the first director of the Dearborn Observatory. Safford’s primary research interests at the Dearborn Observatory were the positions, motions, and orbits of stars. He discovered several nebulae and participated in the Astronomische Gesellschaft’s cooperative star mapping project.

The Chicago Fire in 1871 left the University of Chicago in financial disarray. Safford departed Chicago in 1871 or 1872 on a leave of absence to work for the Army Corps of Engineers and remained there until possibly as late as 1876 (in light of the sparse surviving records, however, this period in Safford's life must remain somewhat conjectural). It is certain that in fall, 1872, and spring, 1873, he assisted Lt. E. H. Ruffner in a reconnaissance of the Ute Territory in Colorado, while later in 1873 Safford was an astronomical observer assisting Lt. G. M. Wheeler overseeing the determination of coordinates at various astronomical stations in the West. Subsequently, Safford did consulting work for various government bureaus until as late as 1876, when he secured an appointment as Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College. He remained at Williams until his death in 1901, though disabled during the last three years of his life by a paralytic stroke.

Scope and Content

The records consist mainly of notebooks in which Safford recorded observations, calculations and notes. Materials include Safford's teaching files from the Chicago University, astronomical observations, computations regarding celestial objects, extracts from astronomical catalogs and two manuscripts. One file contains biographical material.

The notebooks are arranged according to the bulk of their contents, however all of the volumes were used to record a variety of observations, calculations and notes, and they should thus be consulted as a body rather than individually. Materials include Safford's teaching files from the University of Chicago, astronomical observations, computations regarding celestial objects, extracts from astronomical catalogs and two manuscripts.

The first four volumes pertain principally to Safford's teaching at the first University of Chicago. They include lecture notes, problems, class lists, and grades for his classes in astronomy and mathematics. The next seven notebooks record primarily astronomical observations made by Safford at the Dearborn Observatory and other facilities in the period 1854-1875. Many of the observations are of the planets Neptune and Saturn, various nebulae, and the star Polaris. The next four volumes consist chiefly of Safford's computations of the locations, magnitudes, and motions of various celestial objects. The last five volumes include extracts copied from various astronomical catalogs. Safford used these tables for comparisons with each other and with the positions and motions he observed directly.

Following the notebooks are two manuscript essays dealing with education. The first concerns the German Gymnasium system and the second speculates on the future of the public schools in the United States. The published articles that follow the essays span the period 1861-1864 and deal with the positions and motions of stars and planets based upon his observations at the Harvard College Observatory. They represent the principal type of astronomical research being conducted in the mid-nineteenth century. The articles were published in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Science.

A final folder contains a small amount of biographical material, none of which is original or contemporary with Safford's life.

Subjects

Corporate Name

Dearborn Observatory

Subjects

Astronomy--Study and teaching (Higher)--Illinois

Polestar--Observations

Stars--Observations


Container List / Contents

  • Teaching Material
    • Lecture drafts, 1861-67Box 1, Folder 1
    • Class book, 1866-69Box 1, Folder 2
    • Class notes, 1871Box 1, Folder 3
    • Class book, 1871Box 1, Folder 4
  • Observations
    • Polaris, Neptune, 1860sBox 1, Folder 5
    • Polaris, solar, 1861-65Box 1, Folder 6
    • Polaris, 1860sBox 1, Folder 7
    • Polaris, Salt Lake City, transit circle, 1873, 1876Box 1, Folder 8
    • Neptune, Orion nebulae, n.d.Box 1, Folder 9
    • Neptune, Saturn, n.d.Box 1, Folder 10
    • Nebulae, 1860, 1867Box 1, Folder 11
    • Miscellaneous, 1873Box 1, Folder 12
    • Miscellaneous, n.d.Box 1, Folder 13
  • Computations
    • Annual Precision, 1875Box 2, Folder 1
    • Reductions, n.d.Box 2, Folder 2
  • Catalogue Extracts
    • Miscellaneous, 1843-71Box 2, Folder 3
    • 1860 catalogue, n.d.Box 2, Folder 4
    • Bradley stars, n.d.Box 2, Folder 5
    • Robinson list, Henderson list, n.d.Box 2, Folder 6
  • Essay Drafts
    • Notes on Gymnasium Studies (Germany), n.d.Box 2, Folder 7
    • The Probable Future of Our School System, n.d.Box 2, Folder 8
  • Publications
    • “A Catalogue of the Declinations of 532 Stars Near the Zenith of the Observatory of Harvard College”, 1861Box 2, Folder 9
    • “A Catalogue of Standard Polar and Clock Stars, for the Reduction of Observations in Right Ascension…”, 1862Box 2, Folder 10
    • “The Observed Motions of the Companion of Sirius”, 1863Box 2, Folder 11
    • “Right Ascension of the Polar Star”, 1864Box 2, Folder 12
    • “A New Method for Correcting a Planet's Orbit”, n.d.Box 2, Folder 13
  • Biographical Materials
    • Biographical MaterialsBox 2, Folder 14