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The Uses of Astronomy

Mercury Winter 2010 Table of Contents

Dudley Observatory dedication

The Dudley Observatory Dedication, 1857, by Tompkins H. Matteson. More than 160 portraits are combined in this painting, including Maria Mitchell, Benjamin Peirce, Joseph Henry, Louis Agassiz, Millard Fillmore, and, of course, Edward Everett.
Credit: Albany Institute of History and Art.

by Mary Crone Odekon

How do you explain the uses of astronomy? On a summer day in 1856 in Albany, New York, the answer was a two-hour manifesto by famed orator Edward Everett. Everett was not an astronomer. He had recently served as both President of Harvard University and US Secretary of State, and was the main oratorical heavyweight to mark the opening of a new observatory funded by heiress Blandina Bleecker Dudley. He also delivered the Gettysburg Address -- not the succinct version of Abraham Lincoln, which was scheduled for the same day at the last minute, but the full-blown, two-hour main event.

The dedication of the Dudley Observatory, along with a new Geological Hall (inaugurated the previous day with a speech by Louis Agassiz that lasted only one hour), was part of an eight-day extravaganza of lectures linked to the tenth annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Most prominent American scientists were in attendance, joined by political leaders, donors, and thousands of local citizens.

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