Saturday, July 24, 2010

Richard Brown Gans: Boone County's Telescope Maker

Richard Brown Gans brought the Gans name to Boone county from his native Pennsylvania and went on to a lifetime of prolific scientific achievement in the field of telescope-making. Read about Gans’ accomplishments from a wealth of sources from around the nation. These articles and more are included in a vertical file in the Wilson-Wulff History and Genealogy library at the Walters-Boone County Historical Society museum. Thanks to Jack E. Oliver, a great grandson of Mr. Gans, for making the editor aware of this remarkable man and for contributing the photograph of him made by G.L. Collier, photographer, Columbia, Mo.


From the [Columbia] Weekly Missouri Statesman, February 15, 1878, p. 4, col. 2:

A New Industry.
Mr. R.B. Gans, who resides near Columbia, Mo., has made an equatorial achromatic telescope of six inches aperture possessing wonderful magnifying and defining power. He also made his own machinery for grinding the glass, and has so arranged it as to secure a circular, elliptical or cyclordal motion. The construction and finish of the tube show great mechanical genius to say nothing of the still more wonderful skill displayed in the grinding of the glass. Mr. Gans has by long and careful study and experiment thoroughly informed himself in the art of making telescopes, and has declared his intention to make an achromatic telescope 18 inches in aperture, and we doubt not his success. Mr. Gans invited the senior class of the University out to examine his instrument and they were fortunate enough to observe an occultation of Venus. Mr. Gans takes great pleasure in answering any questions relating to telescopes and astronomy in general, and we predict for him a constant demand for his instruments.—St. Louis Jour. of Ed.


From the [Columbia] Weekly Missouri Statesman, September 18, 1878, p. 1, col. 3 [No original image accompanies this transcription]:

Christian Female College — The Gans Telescope.
Christian Female College in this place takes another important step forward by the recent purchase of a new, very large and very valuable telescope, the manufacture of one of our own citizens, Mr. R.B. Gans. This fine instrument will very materially add to the educational facilities of Christian College, and to an appreciate extent, heighten the public interest in the institution.
The telescope has been subjected to the severest tests by our scientists and is adjudged one of the best in the country. It is an equatorial achromatic refractor, 6 inches clear aperture; focal length 99 inches; with 6 astronomical eye-pieces powers varying from 100 to 700 times. Mr. Gans obtained the optical discs of glass in the rough from Messrs. Chance & Co., of Birmingham, England, the same firm from whom Alvan Clark & Sons procured the glass discs for their world-renowned telescopes. The tube is made of black walnut, heavily banded with brass, with rack and pinion motion for eye-piece. The “finder” has a focal length of 80 inches, a magnifying power of 40, with an achromatic object glass diameter 1 inch. The telescope is mounted on an iron pedestal, weighing about 200 pounds, which stands on 6 foot screws. The mounting is equatorial with equatorial and declination circles, permitting the tube to be pointed with ease and celerity in any required direction. The gearing is turned by a cord instead of a tumbling shaft handle, which secures a smooth uniform motion, with extreme precision in such a way that as the earth revolves from west to east, the telescope shall revolve from east to west with the same velocity, and thus point steadily at the same star throughout its diurnal motion..
Recently the editor of this paper and many citizens, and students of our several institutions of learning, enjoyed very successful observations of the moon and of Jupiter and his satellites.


From the Kansas City Review of Science and Industry. Vol. IV, May 1880, No. 1, p. 318 [No original image accompanies this transcription]:

THE Columbia Sentinel reports that Mr. R.B. Gans, a farmer of Boone county, has constructed several small telescopes, which are excellent instruments, and that he is now working upon one of seven inches aperture. He has also invented and constructed a machine for grinding the glasses which is superior to any now in use. One of his telescopes is now on exhibition at the Missouri University, and is pronounced by Prof. Ficklin and others to be a perfect instrument. His next effort will be upon one of 16-1/2 inches diameter and 20 feet focal length. The wonder in this case is that Mr. Gans has never had any training whatever in this direction, but is an amateur in the strictest sense.


From the [Columbia] Weekly Missouri Statesman, May 2, 1884, p. 2, col. 6:

New Telescope.
Few people know and some of those who do will forget that we have in Boone county, and near Stephens Station, an experienced and successful manufacturer of telescopes, in the person of Mr. R. B. Gans. On Saturday in walking through the University campus with Gov. Crittenden we stopped at the Observatory where we found on trial by Prof. Ficklin a refracting telescope about 7 feet long with an object glass of nearly 5 inches in diameter, the workmanship of Mr. Gans, who was present to exhibit to us the instrument and thro’ which we examined the spots on the sun. The telescope was manufactured for the Cape Girardeau Normal School, and it is being tested—thus far with very satisfactory results—by Prof. Ficklin and Thomas before shipment. It is a beautiful instrument, and the fact that it is a Boone county production excited the wonder and admiration of Gov. Crittenden.


From the Boonville Weekly Advertiser, January 5, 1900, p. 2, cols. 1-2:

From the Kansas City Star.
Columbia, Mo., claims a genius in the person of J. [sic] Brown Gans, an aged astronomer, and one of the most aston[ish]ing facts regarding him is that he has made with his own hands and without the aid of machinery, all of the telescopes with which he has conducted his astronomical experiments. Curiosity and a deep desire to fathom the mysteries of the sky have been Gans’s inspiration, and his work covering a life time, has been done in the face of disheartening circumstances. At the age of 80 he is still unknown to fame and beyond a limited circle in the scientific world his work has received no recognition. Gans has five telescopes of various size and power at his home in North Columbia, and they are so nearly perfect that it is difficult to believe them hand-made. Dr. Milton Updegraff, until recently professor of astronomy in the Missouri State University, and now an instructor in the United States navy, is an ardent admirer of Mr. Gans and has pronounced the aged astronomer’s telescopes to be superior to those at the University. The largest of the Gans telescopes is seven inches in diameter and 100 inches in length. The smallest, which Gans calls “the baby,” is 2-3/4 inches in diameter by 43 inches in length.
But the old astronomer is more interesting than his telescopes. He was born at Fayette Town, Pa., in 1819, and has been a stargazer from childhood. As soon as he was able to read he began the study of astronomy. He spent all of his savings on astronomical treatises and never seemed to weary of poring over pages insufferably dull to the average youth. He has in his library now many of the books purchased in his boyhood. In those early days astronomy was not taught in the public schools and young Gans was his own instructor.


Obituary from the Columbia Missouri Herald, January 20, 1905, p. 6, col. 3:

R.B. Gans.—R.B. Gans died at his home at 1308 Paris Road, Saturday evening, January 14, 1905, and was buried buried [sic] in the Columbia cemetery Monday afternoon. Rev. C.H. Winders of the Christian church conducted the services at the home. The deceased was eighty-five years of age. He leaves a wife, eighty-one years old, five children, eighteen grandchildren and four great grandchildren. The children are: Mrs. Iams and Miss Ida Gans, both of whom are teaching school in St. Louis; Geo. Gans, of Columbia; Mrs. Mary M. Allton, of Hinton; and Mrs. Alice G. Self, of Columbia, who is making her home with her mother on Paris road. Mr. Gans was in many respects one of the most remarkable men of this county. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1819 and move to Boone county in 1868. He attained national fame as a telescope and lens maker, the firs telescope that he made, sixty years old, having been sold to the Waynesburg College, Pennsylvania, for a large sum. He made a number of other excellent instruments, sold to various institutions. In the workshop at his home still remain three fine refractors.


Obituary from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, January 29, 1905, p. 8, cols. 2-3:

There was buried in Columbia on January 15 a man whose name was once well known to the lens grinders and telescope makers of America.
Richard Brown Ganz was born in Fayette county, Pa., July 2, 1819, and died in Columbia Saturday, January 14, 1905. He early manifested an interested in physics, and long before he became acquainted with the properties of light he experimented with telescopes and lens. In 1837, in a blacksmith shop in Fayette county, Pa., he made the tube, lenses and equipments of his first instruments, a reflector. Young Ganz worked at his beloved instrument by night until it was finished. He then took it to a neighborhood fair, strange to say, using his grandfather’s hearse as a conveyance. At the fair he allowed persons to look into the crude affair, the moon, of course, being reflected in the bottom mirror.
From that time until the day of his death he made telescopes. Before coming to Missouri in 1868, he made a beautiful 8-inch refractor for Waynesburg college in Pennsylvania, which is still in use there. At that period of his life Mr. Ganz had thrust upon him in unrecognized form an opportunity, which if he had taken advantage of it, would have made him famous in the scientific world. He was offered a position with Alvin Clark & sons, afterward the best known telescope makers in the world. But the allurements of a Missouri farm were too strong for him and he came to Boone county.
There, however, he continued to make telescopes which he sold to many institutions of learning. The most remarkable feature of his work was not only its fineness, but the fact that he made every part of each instrument and the machinery with which he worked, with his ow hands. In 1896, when in his 78th year, he made four beautiful instruments, a picture of the largest, a 7.7-inch refractor, being given here. He ground and polished the lens for this instrument on a home-made lathe, and every part of the intricate equatorial mounting is the work of his own fingers.
One of Mr. Ganz’s instruments is in the observatory of Dr. Irl R. Hicks at his fine suburban home. Mr. Ganz’s oldest daughter, Mrs. Carrie E. Iams, lives at 819 King’s highway, and is a teacher in the Harrison school.


Other references to Richard Brown Gans:

History of Boone County Missouri.  William F. Switzler, 1882.  p. 761.  Biographical sketch of R. Brown Gans.

The Sidereal Messenger, Vol. 5, No. 10, December 1886, unnumbered page before p. 289 (an ad by R. Brown Gans, Brown's Station, Mo., for a 4.8" telescope for sale).

[Jefferson City] Daily Tribune, October 14, 1890, p. 4, col. 3.

[Columbia] Missouri Statesman, August 14, 1896, p. 1, col. 2.

[Columbia] University Missourian, April 21, 1909, p. 4, col. 1. “A Boone County Telescope-Maker.”

Popular Astronomy, Vol. XVII, December 1909, p. 169 (an ad for a Gans telescope).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very nice compilation about this little known telescope maker. Well done.

Post a Comment