AAS Meeting #194 - Chicago, Illinois, May/June 1999
Session 33. HAD III: Gender, Observatories, Planetariums
Historical, Oral, Monday, May 31, 1999, 2:00-3:30pm, Continental Ballroom C

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[33.03] 150 Years of the American Nautical Almanac Office

S. J. Dick (U. S. Naval Observatory)

In 1849, 50 years before the founding of the American Astronomical Society, the American Nautical Almanac Office was established in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although the British had published a Nautical Almanac since 1767, both patriotic and practical reasons lay behind the founding of an American Nautical Almanac Office in the context of the growth of science in the United States. Lt. Charles Henry Davis served as the first Superintendent. In 1866 the Office moved to Washington, D. C., and beginning in 1893 it was physically located at the new (present) site of the U. S. Naval Observatory, of which it became a part over the next few years, and where it has since remained.

>From its beginning the work of the Office was much broader than the publication of data for navigation. The Office also sought to improve the theories of motion of the Sun, Moon and planets, and the astronomical constants on which the Almanac was based. Under Simon Newcomb, Superintendent of the Office from 1877 until his retirement in 1897, a consistent system of constants was devised; some of these constants remained unchanged until 1984.

The American Nautical Almanac Office was dominated before World War II by its Directors William S. Eichelberger (1910-1929) and A. James Robertson (1929-1939). During the War years Wallace J. Eckert introduced punched card techniques to the Office. Gerald Clemence used these techniques to improve planetary theories during his years as Director (1945-1958), and also ushered in the era of the electronic computer for both research and production. International collaboration was a hallmark of the tenures of Clemence, Edgar Woolard, Raynor Duncombe and P. K. Seidelmann, who also implemented changes necessitated by the Space Age. Since 1990 the Nautical Almanac Office has been part of the Astronomical Applications Department of the Naval Observatory.

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