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George C. Shattuck Observatory


The individual responsible for the movement to have an observatory built at Dartmouth was Professor Ira Young, Class of 1828, Professor of Natural Philosophy. Not long after his appointment in 1833, Professor Young pressed the Trustees for modern equipment and apparatus for instruction of natural philosophy. The compelling nature and force of his arguments caused the Trustees to grant his request. The acquisition of new instructional equipment awakened the Dartmouth student body's interest in natural philosophy. In 1838, Young was appointed Professor of Astronomy in addition to the Natural Philosophy Professorship. Professor Young presented the Trustees with a series of requests for new astronomical equipment. In 1846, he asked for and was granted money to acquire a state-of-the-art, six-foot refracting telescope from a manufacturer in Germany. At the arrival of the telescope it was realized no proper structure was available in which to house it. As a result of another petition by Young, the Trustees authorized appropriations for the building of a small, two-room observatory in Young's garden. As had happened with earlier acquisitions of scientific equipment, a great deal of interest in the sciences was generated within the student body. Professor Young used the students' heightened interest in the sciences to formally request the Trustees to build a full observatory and properly house the new telescope, so that qualified research and instruction could continue. It wasn't until 1852 when Boston physician Dr. George C. Shattuck, Class of 1803, gave $7000 that an observatory finally became a possibility. With the gift, Dr. Shattuck stipulated that: the Trustees match the gift with an additional $4000; Ira Young's brother, Ammi B. Young (H1841), create the architectural design for the observatory; and, Professor Young be sent to Europe to purchase the necessary books and equipment needed to outfit the Observatory. Young left for Europe in early 1853, taking his son Charles, Class of 1853, with him. Professor of Chemistry Oliver Payson Hubbard was left to oversee the early phases of the construction of the Observatory. The Youngs returned in September and Professor Young oversaw the final construction phases. The Dartmouth College Observatory was completed before the fall term of 1854. Dr. Shattuck died in March of that year. Although the most obvious use of the Observatory would be for astronomical observations, Professor Young had explained to Dr. Shattuck in October of 1852 that additional equipment was necessary for complete instruction in natural philosophy, and particularly meteorology. Meteorology became a course of instruction in the 1849 - 1850 academic year. Dartmouth continued to send monthly observations to the Smithsonian until 1857. Meteorological data was not collected and recorded during the vacancy in the position of Professor of Natural Philosophy created by Ira Young's death in 1858. Data collection resumed when Henry Fairbanks, Class of 1853, filled the renamed position of Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy in 1859. Professor Fairbanks held the professorship for six years. In 1865, Charles Augustus Young, Class of 1853, assumed responsibilities in the Appleton Professorship. The "new" Professor Young brought prestige to Dartmouth through his astronomical discoveries and publications as Director of the Observatory. He also oversaw the continuing collection of meteorological observations. Meteorological observations continued at Dartmouth under the auspices of the Astronomy Department. Nationally, responsibility for the collection of meteorological data passed from the Smithsonian Institution to the Signal Service division of the U.S. Army in 1870, and from there to the newly created U.S. Weather Bureau within the Department of Agriculture in 1891. The Weather Bureau collected data much the same way the Smithsonian Institution had done, issuing forms to record the meteorological data. The observer kept at least one copy and sent another copy to the local Weather Bureau office. Dartmouth began sending these reports to the Weather Bureau ostensibly in 1892, but continuous reporting is confirmed beginning in 1893.

In 1906, John Merrill Poor, Class of 1897, became Assistant Professor of Astronomy. Throughout his 27-year tenure, he became more and more involved with climatological studies gleaned from the decades of meteorological data that had been collected. Professor Poor was also a renowned astronomer. There was an expansion in the number and kinds of meteorological observations and studies done during his tenure, which included hypsometrical and atmospheric visibility studies. Richard Halsey Goddard, Class of 1920, paid the most attention to the meteorological data collected at Dartmouth. Shortly after his 1934 appointment as Assistant Professor of Astronomy, he began an analysis of the data being collected. He initiated extensive use of recording devices which charted specific data over a specific time frame. Within several years, he developed data forms onto which recording chart readings could be transcribed and tabulated into extensive paper collections or databanks. The forms, each specific to a particular type of data relevant to the recording charts, were actually derived from the monthly registers that had been originally developed by the Smithsonian Institution and later adopted by the Weather Bureau. Individual types of data such as temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, precipitation, wind, sunshine duration, and weather remarks were collected. As had Professor Poor before him, Professor Goddard undertook many individual studies from the combined collected meteorological data kept at the Observatory. Professor Goddard retired in 1964, ending 30 years of continuous service at Dartmouth as the last man to hold the title of Director of Shattuck Observatory. Although meteorological data collection has continued, by the late 1960's retention of meteorological records at the Observatory began to dwindle. The forms developed by Professor Goddard were no longer in use. By the mid 1980's, recording charts were no longer being retained.

Since the days when observations were first collected nationally by the U.S. Weather Bureau from participating meteorological observation stations, some stations were compensated for their participation by the Bureau. Dartmouth has always supplied its meteorological data on a completely voluntary basis. As of December 1995, the Dartmouth College Observatory continues to be a voluntary meteorological observation station for the National Weather Service.

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George C. Shattuck Observatory records

Identifier: DA-9
Overview Construction of the observatory at Dartmouth College was made possible by a gift from Dr. George C. Shattuck, Class of 1803, in 1852. Although the intended use of the observatory was for observations and instruction in astronomy, Professor Ira Young also convinced Dr. Shattuck to provide for additional equipment which would make the building useful for courses in natural philosophy and meteorology as well. Young began sending meteorological observations to the Smithsonian in the fall of 1853....