01 August 2010

Simon Newcomb (1835-1909)

B.M. Newcomb wrote:

Mr. Newcomb came to the United States in 1853; taught school 1854-56 in Maryland; graduated from the mathematical department of Cambridge (Mass.) Scientific School in 1858, and assisted in the preparation of the American Nautical Almanac. In 1861, he was appointed Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy in the United States Navy; was employed in the Naval Observatory at Washington until 1877, having been sent by the government, in 1870, to note the sun's eclipse in the Mediterranean. The degree of L.L.D. was conferred upon him by Columbia University in 1874, the same degree by Yale in 1875, and by Harvard in 1884, also by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1891. In 1875, he received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Leyden, Holland, and the same degree from the University of Heidelberg, Germany, in 1886. In 1892, the University of Dublin, Ireland, conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Sciences.

From 1877 to 1897, Mr. Newcomb held the position of Senior Naval Professor and Superintendent of the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac Office, navy Department, Washington DC, and from 1884 to 1894 was professor mathematics and astronomy in Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md. In 1869, he became a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was its Vice-President from 1883 to 1889, and in 1904 was president of the World's Congress of Scientists at the St. Louis Exposition. He belonged to the highest scientific societies of Europe and America and received gold medals and other honors from foreign governments. As a mathematician and astronomer, he had no superior, if, indeed, an equal, in America, and but few in Europe. A complete list of his scientific papers would include about fifty titles and references, the following being numbered among them: "On the Secular Variations and Mutual Relations of the Orbits of the Asteroids", "An Investigation of the Orbit of Neptune with General Tables of its Motion", "An Investigation of the Distance of the Sun". His best known books are: "Popular Astronomy (1877), "School Astronomy (1879), and a series of Mathematical text books (1881-87).

Mr. Newcomb was also a political economist and wrote "Principles of Political Economy" (1886), "ABC of Finance" (1877), and "A Plain Man's Talk on the Labor Question" (1866).

He was buried with military honors at Arlington national Cemetery in 1909.

From Biographies of Notable Americans:

NEWCOMB, Simon, astronomer, was born in Wallace, N.S., March 12, 1835; son of John Burton and Emily (Prince) Newcomb, and a descendant of Elder Brewster of the Mayflower. He attended the school kept by his father, came to the United States in 1853, and taught school in Maryland, 1854-56. He attracted the attention of Professor Henry, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and was appointed a computer on the Nautical Almanac at Cambridge, in 1857. He was graduated from the Lawrence Scientific school, Harvard, B.S., in 1858; was a graduate student there, 1858-61, and was appointed professor of mathematics in the U.S. navy and assigned to duty at the U.S. naval observatory in 1861. He was married, Aug. 4, 1863, to Mary Caroline, daughter of Dr. Charles A. Hassler, U.S.A. At the close of the Franco-Prussian war, 1870-71, he went to Paris during the time of the Commune, examined the records of the observations and brought to light many astronomical observations back through a period of 200 years. He supervised the construction of the 26-inch equatorial telescope at the U.S. naval observatory and planned the dome in which it was mounted. He was secretary of the U.S. transit of Venus commission, 1871-74; organized astronomical expeditions for the U.S. government, and visited the Saskatchewan region in 1860, and Gibraltar in 1870, for the purpose of observing eclipses of [p.55] the sun. He had charge of a party which took observations of the transit of Venus at the Cape of Good Hope in 1882. He left the observatory in 1877, and directed the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac until 1897, when, having reached the age of sixty-two, he was retired from the navy. He acted as professor of mathematics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins university, 1884-94, and for his services in mounting the great telescope ordered by the Russian government, the Pulkowa observatory in the name of the Czar presented him with a magnificent vase of jasper mounted on a marble pedestal. He also took part in planning the telescope for the Lick observatory. He received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Columbia, 1874, Yale, 1875, Harvard, 1884, Columbia, 1887, Edinburgb, 1891, Johns Hopkins, 1902; that of Math. and Ph. Nat. D. from Leyden, 1875; that of Ph.D. from Heidelberg, 1886; that of S.D. from Dublin, 1892, and that of Phil. Nat. D. from Padua, 1892. He was also made a member of the important scientific societies in America, and an honorary or corresponding member of most of the academies of science of Europe. He was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical society, 1874, being the second American to receive that honor; received the cross of the Legion of Honor of France, and was made an associate of the Institute of France, being the first American since Franklin thus honored. He also received the flint gold medal from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Huygens medal, given only once in twenty years for the best astronomical work during those years, and numerous ether honors. In 1899 the University of Japan presented him with two vases of their finest workmanship. He edited the American Journal of Mathematics, 1888-94, and is the author of: A Critical Examination of our Political Policy during the Rebellion (1865); The A.B.C. of Finance (1877); Popular Astronomy (1877); a series of text books comprising Algebra (1881); Geometry (1881); Trigonometry Logarithms (1882); School Algebra (1882); Analytic Geometry (1884); Essentials of Trigonometry (1884), and Calculus (1887); A Plain Man's Talk on the Labor Question (1886); Principles of Political Economy (1886); Elements of Astronomy (1900); The Stars (1901); His Wisdom the Defender (1901), and many papers on astronomical topics.

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