Born in New York City, Frank Schlesinger earned his B.S. in 1890 at the College of the City of New York and his Ph.D. in 1898 at Columbia University. After three and one-half years measuring variations in latitude in Ukiah, California, he was hired by Yerkes Observatory, where, with the encouragement of director George E. Hale, he pioneered in the use of photographic techniques to determine stellar parallaxes. He soon showed that photographic methods could give more precise results than visual ones, and with less than one hundredth as much time at the telescope. Schlesinger served as director of Allegheny Observatory from 1905 to 1920 and of the Yale University Observatory from 1920 to 1941. He designed instruments and mathematical and numerical techniques to improve parallax measurements. He published ten volumes of zone catalogs, including some 150,000 stars. He compiled positions, magnitudes, proper motions, radial velocities, and other data to produce the first edition and, with Louise Jenkins, the second, of the widely-used Bright Star Catalogues, making Yale a leading institution in astrometry. He also did spectroscopic work, determining orbits of spectroscopic binary stars. He established a second Yale observatory in South Africa and personally supervised its construction. He was an influential leader in the astronomical community and held several offices, including president, in both the American Astronomical Society and the International Astronomical Union.
Presentation of Bruce medal
Moore, J.H., PASP 41, 8-15 (1929).
French Academy of Sciences, Valz medal, 1926.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1927, presented by J.H. Jeans, MNRAS 87, 340-47 (1927).
Some offices held
American Astronomical Society, President, 1919-22.
International Astronomical Union, President, 1932-35.
Brouwer, Dirk, Biographical Memoir of the National Academy of Sciences 24, 105 (1943-46).
Hoffleit, E. Dorrit, Dictionary of Scientific Biography 12, 176-77.
Smith, Horace A., Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 1024-25.
Tenn, Joseph S., “Frank Schlesinger: The Twenty-Fourth Bruce Medalist,” Mercury 23, 3, 26 (1994)
Tenn, Joseph S., “From Ukiah to Yale: Frank Schlesinger and the Measurement of Stellar Positions,” Griffith Observer 80, 1, 2-16 (2016).
Alden, H.L., “Dr. Frank Schlesinger, 1871-1943,” Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of South Africa 3, 16-17 (1944).
Barney, Ida, Popular Astronomy 51, 409-12 (1943).
Mitchell, S.A., PASP 55, 209-16 (1943).
Slocum, Frederick, Ap.J. 98, 241-43 (1943).
Spencer Jones, H., MNRAS 104, 94-98 (1944).
AIP Center for History of Physics
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, photo, 1931 [with W. de Sitter]
Named after him
Schlesinger’s papers are at Yale University and the University of Pittsburgh. The papers are on 31 reels of microfilm. There are copies at Yale University Library and at the AIP Center for History of Physics.
Other References: Historical
Dyson, Frank Watson, “The Stars around the North Pole,” [or “Advances in Astronomy”] Royal Institution Library of Science: Astronomy, 239-242. (lecture delivered 29 April 1921)
Hoffleit, Dorrit, “The Quest for Stellar Parallax,” Popular Astronomy 57, 259-273 (1949).
Hoffleit, Dorrit, Some Firsts in Astronomical Photography (Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge, MA, 1950).
Hoffleit, Dorrit, Astronomy at Yale 1701-1968 (Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, New Haven, CT, 1992).
Hunter, A. & E.G. Martin, “Fifty Years of Trigonometric Parallaxes,” Vistas in Astronomy 2, 1023-30 (1956).
Lankford, John, “Photography and the Long-Focus Visual Refractor: Three American Case Studies 1885-1914,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 14, 77-91 (1983).
Lankford, John, American Astronomy: Community, Careers, and Power, 1859-1940 (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1997).
Schlesinger, Frank, “Recollections of George William Hill,” PASP 49, 5-12 (1937).
van Altena, William F. & E Dorrit Hoffleit, “Schlesinger’s Telescope,” Astronomy & Geophysics 44, 5.09-5.13 (2003).
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Other References: Scientific
Schlesinger, Frank, “The Praesepe group: measurement and reduction of the Rutherfurd photographs,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 10, article #6 (1898). [Ph.D. dissertation]. Also in Contributions from the Observatory of Columbia University, New York, no. 15, 189-286 (1898).
Schlesinger, Frank, “Programme of the International Geodetic Association for Observing Variations of Latitude,” PASP 11, 230-39 (1899).
Schlesinger, Frank, “Suggestions for the Determination of Stellar Parallax by Means of Photography,” Ap.J. 10, 242-45 (1899).
Schlesinger, Frank, “On the Relative Accuracy of Certain Methods for Reducing Stellar Photographs,” Astronomical Journal 22, 67-68 (1901).
Schlesinger, Frank, “Photographic Determinations Of Stellar Parallax Made with the Yerkes Refractor,” Ap.J. 32, 372-87 (1910), 33, 8-27, 161-184, 234-259, 353-374, 418-430; 34, 26-36 (1911).
Schlesinger, Frank, “The Determination of Star Places with a Wide-Angle Camera,” Observatory 38, 129-33 (1915).
Schlesinger, Frank, “Spherical Abberation in Astronomical Objectives Due to the Changes of Temperature,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 1, 13-14 (1915).
Schlesinger, Frank, “The Probable Errors of Proper-Motions Expressed in Polar Coordinates,” Astronomical Journal 32, 99 (1919).
Schlesinger, Frank, “Photographic Determinations of Parallaxes at the Allegheny Observatory,” Astronomical Journal 33, 9-16 (1920).
Schlesinger, Frank, “On Progressive Changes in Latitude,” Astronomical Journal 34, 42-44 (1922).
Schlesinger, Frank, “Photographic Determinations of Stellar Parallaxes,” in , 1924 (Carnegie Institution, Washington, 1924), 422-37.
Schlesinger, Frank & Ida Barney, “Catalogue of the Positions and Proper Motions of 8359 Stars — Reobservation by Means of Photography of the Astronomische Gesellschaft Zone between Declinations +50° and +55°,” Transactions of the Astronomical Observatory of Yale University 4, 2-174 (1925).
Schlesinger, Frank, “A New Type of Measuring Engine for Photographic plates, MNRAS 86, 372-78 (1926).
Schlesinger, Frank, “The Effect of a Star’s Color upon its Photographic Position,” Astronomical Journal 36, 169-72 (1926).
Schlesinger, Frank, C.J. Hudson, Louise Jenkins, & Ida Barney, “Catalogue of 1275 Stars: Re-Observation by Means of Photography of Astronomische Gesellschaft Stars Between Declinations +1° and +2°, Reduced to 1875.0 Without Applying Proper Motions,” Transactions of the Astronomical Observatory of Yale University 3, 135-51 (1926).
Schlesinger, Frank, “A Simple Machine for Comparing Two Celestial Photographs,” Astronomical Journal 37,45-47 (1926).
Schlesinger, Frank, “A Short Method for Deriving Positions of Asteroids, Comets, etc., from Photographs,” Astronomical Journal 37,77-84 (1926).
Schlesinger, Frank, “The Yale Telescope at Johannesburg, South Africa,” PASP 38, 141-47 (1926).
Schlesinger, Frank, “Some Aspects of Astronomical Photography of Precision” (George Darwin Lecture), MNRAS 87, 506-23 (1927).
Schlesinger, Frank, “Reduction of Trigonometric Determinations of Parallax to a Uniform System,” Astronomical Journal 38,189-93 (1928).
Schlesinger, Frank, Catalogue of Bright Stars, containing all important data known in June, 1930, relating to all stars brighter than 6.5 visual magnitude, and to some fainter ones (Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, New Haven, CT, 1930).
Schlesinger, Frank, Ida Barney, & Jan Schilt, Catalogue of the Positions and Proper Motions of 10358 Stars (Yale University Observatory, New Haven, CT, 1933).
Schlesinger, Frank & A.L. Bennett, “Trial of a Projection Method for Measuring Photographs,” MNRAS 93, 382-89 (1933).
Schlesinger, Frank, General Catalogue of Stellar Parallaxes, 2nd ed., 1935
Schlesinger, Frank, “Two Historical Notes: On the Variation of Latitude , and on Ptolemy’s Catalogue,” Observatory 59, 191-96 (1936).
Schlesinger, Frank, “On the Origin of Accidental Errors in Photographs for Astrometry,” Astronomical Journal 46, 85-90 (1937).
Schlesinger, Frank & Ida Barney, “An Effect of a Star’s Color upon its Apparent Photographic Position,” Astronomical Journal 47, 86-88 (1938).
Barney, Ida & Frank Schlesinger, “New Reductions of Astrographic Plates with the Help of the Yale Photographic Catalogues,” Astronomical Journal 49, 39-40 (1940).
Schlesinger, Frank & Louise F. Jenkins, Catalogue of Bright Stars (The New Haven Printing Co., New Haven, Conn., 1940)
Schlesinger, Frank & Ida Barney, Catalogue of the Positions and Proper Motions of 9455 Stars (Yale University Observatory, New Haven, CT, 1943).
Schlesinger, Frank, “The Trigonometrical Parallaxes of 472 Stars: Determined from Photographs Secured with the Twenty-Six Inch Photographic Refractor of the Yale Station, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Measured at Johannesburg and New Haven,” Transactions of the Astronomical Observatory of Yale University 15, pt. 1, 1-130 (1943).
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Other Works: Popularizations, Fiction, History, etc.
Schlesinger, Frank, “The Apparent Figure of the Sky,” Pop. Astr. 7, 117-24 (1899).
Schlesinger, Frank & Robert H. Baker, “Spectroscopic and Visual Binaries,” Pop. Astr. 18, 401-19 (1910).
Schlesinger, Frank, “The Responsibilities of an Observatory Staff,” JRASC 6, 283-89 (1912) [Address delivered at dedication of new Allegheny Observatory, 1912].
Schlesinger, Frank, “Some Pioneer Observers,” PASP 41, 212-23 (1929).