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Guide to the Papers of John A. Anderson, 1914-1951
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Collections

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: John A. Anderson papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1914-1951
    Collection number: Consult repository
    Creator: Anderson, John Augustus, 1876-1959
    Extent: 3.5 linear feet
    Repository: 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.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item, box and file number], John A. Anderson Papers. Archives, California Institute of Technology.

    Acquisition Information

    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 and spectroscopy.

    Indexing Terms

    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
    Palomar Observatory--Administration
    Rockefeller Foundation


    Astronomical instruments--Design
    Astronomical observatories--Administration
    Optical instruments--Design
    Telescopes, reflecting--Design

    Genres and Forms of Materials


    Related Collections

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    Astrophysics Archive
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