For decades after donating money for the construction of the earlier Perkins Student Observatory to Ohio Wesleyan University in 1893, mathematics and astronomy professor Hiram M. Perkins dreamed of a new observatory that could house a much larger telescope to serve as a resource for OWU students and researchers alike. His dream came true on May 23, 1923, when ground was broken for a new Perkins Observatory four miles south of Delaware. Perkins himself–by this time 90 years old–officiated at the groundbreaking of the site, which would soon come to house the world’s third-largest telescope.
Professor Perkins had made his fortune by selling hogs to feed the Union Army during the Civil War, but because he and his wife were devout Methodists, they lived frugally, giving most of their assets to Ohio Wesleyan University. Although he would not live to see his namesake observatory’s completion, Perkins was responsible for the creation of a world-class facility that is still in use today. When the building was completed in 1924, those involved realized that the telescope they desired would take longer than anticipated to complete, due in part to the effects of World War I on the European glass industry which would normally be integral in its construction. The 69-inch mirror was eventually cast by the United States Bureau of Standards, and installed in 1931.
In 1961, the original large reflecting mirror and telescope were moved to Lowell Observatory in Arizona, where the weather was more conducive to astronomical research, and replaced with a smaller 32-inch telescope. The mirror remained at Lowell Observatory until 1964, when it was replaced with a larger Pyrex mirror. It returned to Ohio and was used for displays at COSI until 1999.
Today, the Perkins Observatory (tagline: “The Place for Space!”) remains a premier facility for research and education, and is regularly open to the public for educational programming. We invite you to visit their website and Ohio Memory to learn more about this remarkable building, and to consider a visit to experience the Ohio skies for yourself!
Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!