Early Astronomy in Texas
DAVID S. EVANS AND DONALD W. OLSON*
MODERN TEXANS ARE QUITE USED TO THE IDEA THAT THE STATE IS
home to important activities in astronomy, whether at observato-
ries such as McDonald in West Texas, or space science at the Lyndon B.
Johnson Space Center near Houston, or in academia at Austin, Hous-
ton, and elsewhere. But it was not always so. Indeed, apart from Har-
vard, which had some astronomy since its foundation, there was essen-
tially no astronomy of any significance in the United States until well
into the nineteenth century.
As far as human effort is concerned, the same is true of Texas, and it
is only recently that any paid professional jobs in academia have carried
the explicit title of astronomer. All over the civilized world, however,
there always have been amateur astronomers, that is, unpaid workers
who have pursued the science out of intellectual curiosity and devotion.
In fact, a large proportion of the best-known names in astronomy have
begun as amateurs, and not all of them succeeded in obtaining later
paid employment. The best of them produced work rivaling, especially
in the early days when equipment was still uncomplicated, the efforts of
the small band of professionals, whom they often outnumbered. The
fields of activities especially suited to amateur effort included observa-
tion of phenomena, such as eclipses, and more frequently the timing of
* David S. Evans,Jack S.Josey Centennial Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at the University
of Texas at Austin, is the coauthor, with J. Derral Mulholland, of Bag and Braght A Hstory of the
McDonald Observatory (1986). He is currently preparing a biography on the French astronomer
Nicolas Louis de Lacaille (1713-1762).
Donald W. Olson, associate professor of physics at Southwest Texas State University, has au-
thored articles on the history of astronomy for Sky & Telescope and is a member of the Historical
Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society
For assistance in the preparation of this article, the authors are much indebted to the staffs of
the Austin History Center, the Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center at the University of
Texas at Austin, the Fort Sam Houston Museum in San Antonio, the Royal Library of Belgium,
and the U.S Coast Survey. They wish to thank especially Virgil E. Barnes, Brenda Corbin of
the U S. Naval Observatory, Jean Dommanget of the Belgian Royal Observatory, Robert Har-
rington of the U.S. Naval Observatory, Oscar E. Monnig, and Thomas R. Williams, along with
others cited individually in the footnotes.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101213/. Accessed December 19, 2013.