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Excerpts from The History of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston
The ATM's of Boston was founded in 1934 by a group of persons interested in
assisting others in the art of optical polishing the craft of telescope
making, and to learn together about the science of astronomy and the use of
astronomical instruments. The founding members consisted of a banker, some
engineers, a music teacher, a plumber, a tinsmith, a secretary, and an
electrician to name a few. The group was encouraged by A.D. Jones Optical
works, the only optical concern in Boston at the time. Mr. Jones introduced
the club to Dr. Harlow Shapley at Harvard College Observatory. With Dr.
Shapley's assistance, a series of monthly
lecture meetings were instituted on astronomy and held at the observatory.
Those meetings still continue today and we have been privileged to hear many
of the world's most eminent astronomers speak at the meetings.
Wagn Hargbol and his 12.5" scope
shop sessions were held in a basement adjacent to the pier of the great 15"
refractor. Before long, the quest for aperture began, with each member
attempting larger and larger instruments as his prowess and resources
allowed. Finally, a group collaborated on the construction of a 20 inch
aperture cassegrainian telescope. Work was well under way and the mirror
nearly completed when World War II broke out. Most members had to devote
their time to war duties, but a few members continued to work at home and
visited the optical shop for weekly instruction. A small group of the most
able amateur optical workers participated in the war department program to
provide binocular erecting prisms to aid the overstressed optical industry.
Many thousands of prisms were produced at a quality equaling or exceeding
those produced commercially. The stable environment of the subterranean shop
no doubt was a great asset to those opticians. Of course, many individual
amateurs throughout the country participated in the program but few were able
to provide the required angular accuracy required.
The ATM group later
banded together under the direction of Dr. James G. Baker to form the
Harvard Optical Project and was devoted to the fabrication of difficult
reconnaissance lenses. After the war, the Harvard Optical Project moved to
Boston University as part of the physical research laboratories. However, the
ATMs stayed at Harvard College Observatory as stated in a letter dated
October 19, 1953 written by Donald H. Menzel to Frank Smeltzer, ATMs.
The ATM's first president, Wagn Hargbol, became foreman of the optical shop
and later founded his own optical company. The research lab was sponsored
by the Air Force and later became Itek Corporation. Regular shop activities
resumed with the help of these "professional amateurs" and the club grew to
180 members. Among those who made telescopes around that time were John
Patterson, then director of the Hayden Planetarium, Charles Avila, former
president of Boston Edison, Dr. Tuckerman Moss, an MIT graduate and now
research scientist at Tinsley Optical Labs; Gerald Ouellette, professor of
astrodynamics at MIT and BU; and Samuel Gardiner, Former Optical Foreman at
In 1956, just prior to the launch of the first artificial satellites, the
ATM's joined the Operation Moonwatch program sponsored by the Smithsonian
Astrophysical Observatory and formed "Operation Moonwatch Cambridge", a
research group dedicated to developing advanced amateur techniques for visual
observations and orbit predictions. Equipment was set up on the roof of the
observatory to make observations accurate to 6 arc-minutes in position and
one tenth of a second timings. As the combined HCO-SAO complex expanded,
the ATM workshop was moved a number of times and finally had to move to the
Museum of Science when all available space was needed for official staff
Within a few years, a similar situation occurred at the Museum
when space was required for new exhibits. At that time, the club, which had
grown to 220 members, moved to the cellar of one of its members and long
range plans were made to purchase a piece of land and construct a
The astronomic rise in real estate values, building costs, and
inflation-in-general has delayed this goal considerably and has made the
prospect of a convenient downtown location unlikely. In addition, the
population shift to the suburbs makes no one particular location ideal. In
recognition of the various legal and financial problems involved with
acquisition of property, buildings, and equipment, the club incorporated in
Massachusetts as a non-profit education organization in 1966. A dues
increase was implemented to establish a building and savings account for
In 1974, the ATM's expended considerable labor and funds to refurbish a
building at the Nike site on Drumlin Farm in Lincoln Mass. so that workshop
activities could resume with our own group responsible for providing the heat
and utilities. An active observing program was also established and a 16"
telescope has been constructed. Unfortunately, nearly a year later, it was
discovered in a legal settlement that the prior landowner had stipulated
that should the U.S. Army vacate the site, it was to revert to its natural
state forever. The army was required to demolish the buildings and for the
past two years, the corporation has been without a shop and unable to serve
Historian Note: In 1977, after contacting Dr. Sebring and M.I.T. the club
was granted permission to occupy and rent the farmhouse which is under
restoration and per as our agreement, we will maintain the property. This
year marks the 20th year of our association with Haystack Observatory.