Vassar College Refracting Telescope

Vassar College was established as a school for women at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1861. Like many other American colleges of the period, it had a well-equipped astronomical observatory. Its primary telescope, an equatorial refractor of 12½ inches aperture, was made by Henry Fitz, America’s first successful commercial telescope maker. Its first professor of astronomy was Maria Mitchell, America’s first woman astronomer and first woman scientist of note. In the mid-1860s, Mitchell asked Alvan Clark to rework the large objective lens and also the drive mechanism. Warner & Swasey built a new mount in the 1880s. Vassar donated this historic telescope to the Smithsonian in 1963.
Ref: Deborah Warner and Robert Ariail, Alvan Clark & Sons. Artists in Optics (Richmond, 1995), pp. 170-173.
Currently not on view
Object Name
telescope, refractor (objective)
date made
used at
Vassar College
Mitchell, Maria
Fitz, Jr., Henry
Fitz, Harry
Clark, Alvan
Warner & Swasey Company
Physical Description
walnut veneer (overall material)
brass (polar circle material)
brass (eyepiece material)
glass (eyepiece material)
mahogany (case material)
leather (seat material)
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Science & Mathematics
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Vassar College

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