Observers, Publications, and Surveys: Astronomy in the United States in 1849

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  • In 1849, Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, sought to publish a series of summaries on the then-current state of science, especially in the United States. He asked Elias Loomis of New York University to write the volume on astronomy; Henry, however, was dissatisfied with parts of Loomis' manuscript and requested Benjamin Apthorp Gould's input on some portions of the work. The author writes that the interchange of surviving correspondence and Loomis' book are evidence that in the mid-19th century, astronomy in the U.S. was productive and growing. The astronomical community consisted of over 50 people, including some military observers; 12 observatories were functioning at the time, and the subject of astronomy was an integral part of the American liberal arts college curriculum.
  • However, there were no astronomical journals at the time, only one on general science entitled "The American Journal of Science," usually known as "Silliman's Journal" after its editor, Yale University's Benjamin Silliman. While that journal included various articles on astronomy and published bits of astronomical news, it was viewed as not being capable to serve as the primary journal for astronomical publication. The author notes that it was Benjamin Apthorp Gould who decided to see if there was enough interest in the U.S., as well as Europe, to keep an American astronomical journal alive.


  • Silliman, Benjamin 1816-1885
  • Loomis, Elias
  • Gould, Benjamin Apthorp
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


The author is with the Joseph Henry Papers Project, Smithsonian Institution Archives. References follow the article.

Contained within

Astronomical Journal Vol. 117, No. 1 (Journal)

Contact information

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




  • Observatories
  • Education
  • Secretaries
  • Astronomy
  • Education, Higher

Physical description

pp. 6-8

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