Defending a Dream: Charles Greeley Abbot's Years at the Smithsonian

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  • Charles Greeley Abbot, second Director of the Smithsonian Institution's Astrophysical Observatory and fifth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, came to work at the Smithsonian in 1895 as an assistant to then-Secretary Samuel P. Langley. This article describes Abbot's life-long efforts to continue and expand on Langley's work in the study and measurement of the solar constant, and to espouse his own ideas concerning the solar constant's influence on the Earth's weather.
  • Abbot received criticism from a number of other experts in the field for some of the scientific conclusions he reached, and even Loyal B. Aldrich, Abbot's successor as SAO Director, privately felt that work should be confined to improvement of solar constant records and should not address possible correlations with weather. However, Abbot stood his ground and prevailed over his critics due to his standing as SAO Director and later as Smithsonian Secretary, the close ties he enjoyed with scientific societies, and the fact that his work was very much in vogue in the 1920's and 1930's. Abbot was in charge of an institution able to sustain his programs and therefore was insulated from many pressures faced by other scientists.


  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • Aldrich, Loyal Blaine 1884-1965
  • Abbot, C. G (Charles Greeley) b. 1872
  • Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Author is with the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.

Contained within

Journal for the History of Astronomy Vol. 21, Part 1, No. 63 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


February 1990


  • Weather
  • Astrophysics
  • Secretaries
  • Solar energy
  • Science
  • Solar constant
  • Solar collectors
  • Learned institutions and societies
  • Experiments
  • Science--Experiments
  • Biography
  • Solar energy--Research

Physical description

p. 121-136

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