This telescope has a 4-inch aperture achromatic objective, a 54-inch brass tube, a nickel-plated finder scope, a wooden tripod, and a cast-iron equatorial mount of the so-called “tombstone” form. While it has no clock or circles, it does have a declination arc that extends from 0 to 60 degrees. A plate on the mount reads: “J. A. BRASHEAR / ALLEGHENY, PA. / 304.” The address, serial number, and form indicate that the telescope was made in the 1890s.
John A. Brashear was a self-taught optician and mechanic who, with the financial support of William Thaw, made instruments for astronomy and astrophysics. Brashear established a small workshop behind his house in 1881. In 1886 he moved to a larger facility in Allegheny, a town that would be annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907.
In 1896, Brashear sent this telescope to Henry Curwen Lord, professor of astronomy at Ohio State University in Columbus, and director of the newly established Emerson McMillan Observatory. And he wrote, in an accompanying letter: “I make it an invariable rule to test all telescopes before they leave us. We like to be our own severest critics. The glass is a beauty and your people should get good use from it.”
The telescope eventually came into the hands of Edward Stansbury Wilson, a newspaper editor who spoke at the opening of the Emerson McMillan Observatory. An enthusiastic advocate of amateur astronomy, Wilson argued for the value of appreciating the glory and grandeur of the universe. His grandson, John E. Ruedy, gave the telescope to the Smithsonian in 1983.
According to tradition, Brashear began by making achromatic objectives with the crown element in front of the flint. Around 1887, following the advice of Charles S. Hastings, an optical physicist at The Johns Hopkins University, he began making flint-forward objectives. This telescope is probably of that sort.
Ref: John A. Brashear, John A. Brashear. Autobiography of a Man Who Loved the Stars (Boston, 1925).
Letter from John A. Brashear to H. C. Lord (Oct. 9, 1896) in NMAH accession file.
Edward S. Wilson, Keynotes of Education (Cincinnati, 1898).
Currently not on view
Object Name
telescope, refracting
date made
Brashear, John A.
place made
United States: Pennsylvania, Allegheny
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
brass (overall material)
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
John E. Ruedy
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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