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Safford, Truman Henry, 1836-1901



  • Existence: 1836-1901

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.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Dearborn Observatory Records

Identifier: 29/2
Abstract Records of Dearborn Observatory, built in 1865 by the Chicago Astronomical Society and the University of Chicago and in 1889 moved to Northwestern University's Evanston campus. Dearborn Observatory was a significant contributor in the area of double star research. The records consist almost entirely of observational data gathered by astronomers using Dearborn's 18-1/2 inch refracting telescope or its meridian circle, calculations performed on the data, and the results of such investigations.

Truman H. Safford (1836-1901) Papers

Identifier: 29/4
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 in 1889 to Northwestern University). The records consist mainly of notebooks in which he recorded observations, calculations and notes. Materials include Safford's teaching files from the first University of Chicago, astronomical observations, computations regarding celestial objects, extracts from astronomical catalogs and two manuscripts. One file...