The Bruce Medalists


  Photo courtesy Mary Lea Shane Archives, Lick Observatory
Simon Newcomb
12 March 1835 1898 Bruce Medalist 11 July 1909

At age eighteen Simon Newcomb, with no money and little education, made his way on foot from his native Nova Scotia to the United States. Later he found employment as a computer with the Nautical Almanac Office, then in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and earned a B.S. at Harvard. He eventually became director of the Nautical Almanac Office, later part of the United States Naval Observatory, and served concurrently as professor of mathematics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. He used carefully analyzed measurements of stellar and planetary positions to compute motions of the sun, moon, planets, and their satellites. He measured the speed of light and the constant of precession. His values for the fundamental constants of astronomy were used by the world’s almanac makers for decades. He provided important guidance on the construction of the world’s largest telescopes. Newcomb wrote profusely on mathematics, economics, and other subjects and is credited with discovering “Benford’s Law ” in statistics. He was a leader in American science. He was the first president of the American Astronomical Society and the American Society for Psychical Research, and also served as president of the American Mathematical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Philosophical Society of Washington, and other organizations.

Presentation of Bruce medal
Alvord, William, PASP 10, 49 (1898).

Other awards
Holland Academy of Sciences, Huygens Medal, 1878.
Government of Germany, Order Pour le Merite for Arts and Sciences, 1905.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1874, presented by Arthur Cayley, MNRAS 34, 224-33 (1874).
Royal Society, Copley Medal, 1890.

Some offices held
American Association for the Advancement of Science, President, 1877.
American Astronomical Society, President, 1899-1905 [first president].
American Mathematical Society, President, 1897-98.

Biographical materials
Archibald, Raymond Clare, Semicentennial History of the American Mathematical Society, 1888–1938 (American Mathematical Society, 1938), pp. 124-39 [includes an extensive list of Newcomb’s publications].
Campbell, W.W., “Simon Newcomb,” and Archibald, R.C., “Simon Newcomb, 1835-1909: Bibliography of His Life and Work,” Memoirs of the Nat. Acad. of Sciences 17, 1-71 (1924) (pdf)
Carter, Bill & Merri Sue Carter, Simon Newcomb: America’s Unofficial Astronomer Royal (Matanzas, St. Augustine, FL, 2006).
Kirkman, Tom, Simon Newcomb
Marsden, Brian, Dictionary of Scientific Biography 10, 33-36.
Moyer, Albert E., A Scientist’s Voice in American Culture: Simon Newcomb and the Rhetoric of Scientific Method (Univ. of California Press, 1992).
Moyer, Albert E., “Simon Newcomb: Astronomer with an Attitude,” Scientific American 279, 4, 88-93 (Oct 1998).
Newcomb, Simon, Reminiscences of an Astronomer (or here) (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1903).
Norberg, Arthur L, “Simon Newcomb’s Early Astronomical Career,” Isis 69, 209-225 (1978).
Norberg, Arthur Lawrence, Simon Newcomb and Nineteenth-Century Positional Astronomy, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1974.
O’Connor, J.J. & E.F. Robertson, The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive
Tenn, Joseph S., Simon Newcomb: A Famous and Forgotten American Astronomer,” Griffith Observer 51, no. 11, 2-11, 14 (1987).
Tenn, Joseph S., “Simon Newcomb: The First Bruce Medalist,” Mercury 19, 1, 18 (1990).

Arlington National Cemetary
Brown, E.W., Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 16, 341-355 (1910).
C[omstock], G.C., Science 30, 357-58 (1909).
P.H.C. [ Philip Herbert Cowell?], Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A 84, xxxii-xxxviii (1910-11).
Hill, G.W., “Simon Newcomb as an Astronomer,” Science 30, 353-57 (1909).
London Times, 1909.
Stone, Ormond, Ap.J. 30, 171-77 (1909).
Turner, H.H., MNRAS 70, 304-10 (1910).

AIP Center for History of Physics
Caltech Archives
Dibner Library: middle aged, old
Library of Congress: autographed drawing by Robert Kastor
U.S. Naval Observatory Library  (also another painting and a photo)
Photo of his grave at Arlington National Cemetery

Named after him
Cape Newcomb of the Hoyt Islands, Greenland, National Geographic 9, 3 (1898).
USS Simon Newcomb, U.S. Navy surveying ship
Lunar crater Newcomb
Martian crater Newcomb
Minor planet #855 Newcombia
Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Simon Newcomb Award
U.S. Naval Observatory, Simon Newcomb Award for Scientific Research Achievement.

More references

The Bruce Medalists

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