Scope and Content of Collection
Title: John A. Anderson papers,
Date (inclusive): 1914-1951
Collection number: Consult repository
Anderson, John Augustus, 1876-1959
3.5 linear feet
California Institute of Technology. Archives.
Pasadena, California 91125
Abstract: These papers document the career of astronomer John A. Anderson. The bulk of the documentation is in the form of correspondence,
calculations, drawings, and photos. They relate chiefly to Palomar Observatory and Anderson's work on the instrument and optical
design of the telescope.
Collection is open for research.
Copyright may not have been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All requests for permission to publish
or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on
behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include
or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item, box and file number], John A. Anderson Papers. Archives, California Institute of Technology.
Donated by Astronomy Department, California Institute of Technology.
John August Anderson was born on August 7, 1876, in Rollag, Minnesota, the sixth son of Norwegian immigrants. He earned a
bachelor's degree from Valparaiso College in Indiana in 1900. After a brief period of teaching, he began graduate study at
Johns Hopkins University and received his PhD in 1907. His thesis was a study of the emission and absorption spectra of the
oxides of the metals neodymium and erbium.
Anderson was appointed professor of astronomy at Hopkins in 1908. At that time he was requested to take charge of the ruling
engine constructed by Henry Rowland, the great American pioneer in spectroscopy. Anderson refined Rowland's machine to produce
gratings of even finer resolving power. In 1912, Anderson was called upon by George Ellery Hale to assist in the construction
of a new ruling engine for the Mount Wilson solar observatory in Pasadena, California. In 1916 Anderson relocated to California
to become a permanent member of the Mount Wilson staff within the physical laboratory set up there by Hale. During his years
with Mount Wilson, Anderson conducted major experimental work in solar observation and spectroscopy and became an expert in
optics. With Harry O. Wood of the Carnegie Institution's Seismological Laboratory, he development a new torsion seismometer
for the measurement of local earthquake shocks.
In 1928, the California Institute of Technology received funds for the building of the 200-inch Palomar telescope, then the
largest optical telescope in the world. Anderson was asked by Hale to serve as executive officer of the newly formed Observatory
Council, whose charge was to oversee all aspects of the telescope project. Over the next twenty years, Anderson directed
and participated in site selection, design and testing of the 200-inch mirror, the establishment and operation of an on-site
optical shop, and the design and testing of the telescope structure and, especially, its instrumentation. Anderson remained
head of the Observatory Council up to the time of the telescope's dedication, in June 1948.
Anderson had maintained a part-time connection with Mount Wilson, from which he retired in 1943. He was a member of several
learned societies, including the American Astronomical Society and the American Physical Society. He was elected to the National
Academy of Sciences in 1928. John Anderson died in Pasadena on December 2, 1959.
Scope and Content of Collection
The John A. Anderson Papers were transferred to the Caltech Archives by the Astronomy Department in 1974. They comprise the
working papers of Anderson and, to some degree, of the Observatory Council. Included is correspondence, much of it connected
with technical matters relating to the Palomar telescope. Major correspondents are: George Ellery Hale (1928-1936, director);
Clyde McDowell (1935-1938, engineer); Russell Porter (1929-1932, designer and architect). Other types of material include
drawings, blueprints, photos; calculations and technical data; reports; reprints; and documents relating to solar observation
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection.
Hale, George Ellery, 1868-1938
California Institute of Technology
International Education Board
Genres and Forms of Materials
Astronomy Department Records
George Ellery Hale Papers
Bruce Rule Papers