Milwaukee Astronomical Society


History of the Milwaukee Astronomical Society

1936: Observatory Established

It is important to note that though the offer of land has been made and tentatively accepted, the MAS has not formally done that. Not only that, to take possession of the land an observatory has to be constructed. So as we start 1936, there are still no plans and it isn't clear that the club will be able to construct an observatory. By the end of the year, however, the society will finally decide to utilize the property. 

The original 1.1 acre superimposed with the modern observatory.

In May of 1936, new member, A. C. Tabbatt, who was primarily interested in planetary observation, stated that he wanted a large telescope for that purpose and would put up the funds necessary for its completion. It was decided that it would be an 8-inch, f/15 reflector! The mirror would be ground by Joseph Loepfe and the mount designed and built by Ed Halbach.

The final mirror had a focal length of 122 inches (f/15.25) in a tube 9.5 inches in diameter and 120 inches in length on a massive equatorial mount that by necessity had to be permanent. It was completed by July and successfully tested. The observatory for this scope was a rollaway structure, constructed of masonite pressed wood on a wood framework. The dimensions were 4X10 feet, 7 feet high at the door and 2 feet at the end. That structure was completed by September and it was placed roof of a south side building.

In October of 1936, Armfield had to move from his house as a result of a divorce. This decommissioned the 13 inch telescope and it was the loss of the unofficial site of the MAS observatory. But there were two silver linings: 1) This allowed additional work on the telescope. The original wooden mirror box which was replaced with a proper mirror cell. A sidereal drive, setting circles, and slow motions in both axes were added. 2) It lit a fire under the MAS to finally act on the land offer by Phillips and start development. The picture at the right show members Frister and Dieter in the late fall of 1936 surveying the property for the start of the development.  

The following year, Tabbatt donated his 8" telescope and rollway shelter and it was erected on the site on July 5, 1937. The photos below show George Diedrich opening the roll-away and then at the eyepiece of the telescope. In time, this structure will eventually be called the C-Shed. Today, the Albrecht Observatory is on this spot. As a footnote, Bill Albrecht, helped dig the footings for Tabbatt's telescope.


1937: Construction of the Domed Observatory

In June of 1937, it was decided that the construction of an observatory should be started according to the original plans (see below). Before the meeting ended, $40.00 in cash was placed on the table by those present and promises were made for more money to meet the first construction expenses. Mr. Phillips further offered to provide all materials and tools for building the pier.

GIF representation of the MAS Observatory plan over time.

The original plan is shown in the above animated GIF. The building which would be started in July would be the first of several units which would become one larger complete building. When funds were secured, a second unit of about the same size as the first would be constructed 50 feet directly west and the two buildings connected by a one-story office/meeting hall which could be heated. Directly north of the center point between the two domes, there would be a larger unit to house possibly a 20 to 30 inch reflector. Click here or on the image above to see how this compares to what we have at the observatory today.

In July, ground was broken by the digging of a hole six feet deep to receive the form for the pier. The portion under ground was made three feet square and extended 12 feet above ground, tapering to a cross section of 12 by 18 inches at the top. This great height was needed to place the telescope in the second story of the observatory to conform with the original plan. All of the labor was supplied by the membership. And it was quite a feat to hoist the concrete for the 8-ton pier to the top of the form which was 12 feet above the ground with just a small bucket. In delivering the 10 cubic yards of crushed stone and sand for the concrete, the Kohler Gravel Company donated half in exchange for a glimpse of the heavens when the telescope was completed. At this time a smaller pier was poured 50 feet west for a future 10 or 12 inch telescope.

The plans called for a frame building 16 feet square and 13 feet high, supporting a 14 1/2 foot dome. Twelve small concrete piers were laid to support the building and dome. The frame and sheathing of used lumber were covered with new siding.


Local industry provided workmen to help with the dome which was fabricated in place with welding done by Nordberg Mfg and the portable arc welder was furnished through the courtesy of Harnischfeger Corporation. The dome was designed to be motorized, but that would have to come later. All other funds were donated by members and other equipment was supplied by the Phillips farm. And in order to get power for the new observatory, the MAS ran a 1500 foot electric line from the neighboring Phillips farm.

Note: Much of the information about the construction of the observatory (and often word for word) is from an article by Ed Halbach published in the June-July, 1938 issue of the AAAA. You can read that account here on page 14 of the document. 


Observatory Outhouse Construction

Outhouse construction

Completed Outhouse - Matthew Phillips

Completed outhouse. Matthew Phillips at right.

Though there is no documentation in any of the MAS records that are known, sometime in 1937 they constructed an outhouse. It was not on the the property, but just north so technically on the Phillips farm. But it had to be okay as they knew and naturally the facility would be available to the Phillips farm. The club will utilize this outhouse until 1965 when regular restrooms will be constructed.