AAS Meeting #194 - Chicago, Illinois, May/June 1999
Session 10. HAD IV: Women, Alignments, Biography
Historical, Display, Monday, May 31, 1999, 9:20am-6:30pm, Southwest Exhibit Hall

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[10.03] Denver's Pioneer Astronomer: Herbert Alonso Howe (1858-1926)

H.J. Howe, R.E. Stencel, S. Fisher (Univ.Denver Observatories)

Herbert A. Howe arrived at Denver University (DU) to teach autumn 1880 classes, in math, astronomy and surveying. Howe established himself with clever solutions to the Kepler problem for orbit determinations in thesis work at Cincinnati Observatory. Riding the economic expansion of Colorado gold and silver mining in 1888, the University accepted a proposed gift of a major observatory, offered by Denver real estate baron, Humphrey Chamberlin. The result features a 20 inch aperture Alvan Clark refractor, which still ranks among the largest telescopes of the era. With the observatory building ready, the Silver Panic of 1893 -- when the US Congress dropped silver reserves from the currency basis -- burst the Denver economic bubble. Chamberlin was unable to complete payments on the balances due. Clark and G.N.Saegmuller (Fauth and Co.) at personal expense, delivered on the optics and telescope assemblies in 1894, but would wait for repayment. Sadly, this fiscal crisis affected DU for over a decade. Professor Howe, while observatory director, found himself consumed as Dean and Acting Chancellor for a young, struggling university, at the expense of the astronomy future that had looked so bright in 1892. Absent the Silver Panic, Howe would have probably been given an endowed chair in astronomy, as promised by Chamberlin. The complexion of American astronomy at the time of the birth of the American Astronomical Society in 1899 might have been different, in terms of US observing sites, etc. We are fortunate to have extensive Prof.Howe's daily diaries now in the University archives. These describe Howe's view of progress on the observatory, meetings with astronomy notables, plus vignettes of the life and times of Denver and the nation. Grandson, Herbert Julian Howe rediscovered their existence and is summarizing them in the form of a biography entitled: The Pioneer Astronomer. DU archival records contain numerous original letters from late 19th century astronomy luminaries like Hale, Barnard, Pickering, Clark, Saegmuller, etc and may constitute an important historical resource. Contact University Archivist, Steven Fisher, sfisher@du.edu for access. We remain grateful to the estate of William Herschel Womble for helping to fulfill the dream that partially eluded Mr.Chamberlin.

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