This week I am re-posting an article by Glenn Walsh that I learned about through the
HASTRO (History of Astronomy) mailing list. This is a fascinating story of lost equipment,
stuff in barns, and the Adler Planetarium. Enjoy the read. You can see the original at
Mystery Solved! Oldest U.S. Planetarium Projector Found & Recovered (September 18, 2020).
Thanks to Mr. Walsh for permission to re-post it here.
A 50-year mystery has been solved! America’s oldest planetarium projector, the Zeiss II / III Planetarium Projector, operated at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium from 1930 to 1969, has been found and recovered.
The author of this blog-post, Glenn A. Walsh, is proud to have assisted in the resolution of this mystery.
On 1930 May 12, Adler Planetarium opened in Chicago as the first major planetarium in the Western Hemisphere, with a Zeiss Mark II from the Carl Zeiss Optical Works in Jena, Germany. Before World War II, four more Zeiss II Planetarium Projectors would find their way to America: Philadelphia: Fels Planetarium, Franklin Institute (1933); Los Angeles: Griffith Observatory (1935); New York City: Hayden Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History (1935); Pittsburgh: Buhl Planetarium & Institute of Popular Science (1939).
The modern mechanical, projection planetarium was developed in Germany, with the first public showing on 1923 October 21 at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. This was the Zeiss Mark I, designed by the Carl Zeiss Optical Works. Adler Planetarium operated their Zeiss II Planetarium Projector from 1930 until 1961. Then, this projector was upgraded from a Zeiss II to a Zeiss III.
According to Mike Smail, Director of Theaters and Digital Experience at Adler Planetarium, “In 1961, Adler upgraded their projector, adding the two collars or ruffs at the base of each starball that held individual projectors for the 42 brightest stars, an upgraded Moon projector, and new chromium-coated, photo-engraved star plates (replacing the original hand-punched copper plates).” Mr. Smail’s statement was made during his presentation, “There and Back Again: 90 Years of Adler’s Zeiss Mark II” (click here to see the presentation), during the “History of Planetaria – What to Preserve and How” webinar, sponsored by the International Planetarium Society (IPS) History of the Planetarium Working Group on Thursday Morning, 2020 September 3.
It should be noted that all Zeiss III projectors are upgraded Zeiss II projectors. The Zeiss IV Planetarium Projector was the first all-new projector produced by Carl Zeiss, following World War II. The Zeiss II / III last operated at Adler Planetarium on 1969 December 31. It then took two weeks to dismantle the Zeiss II / III, to prepare it to be sent to Jackson, Mississippi. It took a couple more weeks to install the new Zeiss VI Planetarium Projector before it began presenting shows to the general public.
The Zeiss II / III was sent to Jackson, Mississippi for a yet-to-be built new planetarium theater. So, it appeared that this historic projector would get a new life educating the citizens of Mississippi, as the citizens of nearby Baton Rouge, Louisiana were being educated by another historic Zeiss II / III projector used originally by the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.
However, the Russell C. Davis Planetarium in Downtown Jackson opened in 1978, but with a different projector: the Minolta S-IV Planetarium Projector. This was the beginning of what would be a 50-year mystery regarding the fate of Adler Planetarium’s historic Zeiss II / III Planetarium Projector.
The Russell C. Davis Planetarium had determined that the cost of rehabilitating Adler’s 1930 projector was significantly more than the cost of a brand new projector from a different vendor. So, once Adler’s historic Zeiss II / III Planetarium Projector left Mississippi, it took a convoluted route ending-up in a barn in central Ohio some years later. But for most of the 50 years, most people had no idea where the projector was located; the Ohio purchaser kept a low-profile and did very little with the projector.
About 20 years ago, planetarium historians Glenn A. Walsh and Brent Sullivan, with assistance from Gary Lazich, started looking for Adler’s historic Zeiss II / III Planetarium Projector. Through research, including telephone and electronic mail interviews with people who had involvement with the Adler Zeiss Projector, a narrative started to be assembled showing what may have happened to the projector, although there were conflicting stories that were difficult to reconcile. Mr. Walsh compiled all of the stories on his History of Adler Planetarium Internet web-site, and he asked web-site readers to contact him if they had additional information. After April of 2008, no further information was received.
Mike Smail, during his September 3 presentation, announced that the Adler Planetarium had found and recovered the historic Zeiss II / III Planetarium Projector. He then, provided a summary of what had happened to the projector over these 50 years (1970 to 2020).
Mr. Smail explained:
As previously mentioned, the Davis Planetarium opened in 1978, but with a Minolta S-IV projector at its core. Why not the Zeiss? When the team in Jackson investigated the actual costs of re-constructing and updating the Zeiss, they found it would be upwards of $230,000. And when they reached out to planetarium manufacturers for bid quotes, they received an offer from Viewlex (then Minolta’s US Distributor) that was about $100,000 less than Zeiss repair costs. Viewlex also offered Jackson $30,000 in trade-in for the Adler’s Zeiss. I can’t say I blame them for that choice, and they got 35 good years out of that new projector. Adler’s Zeiss then found itself shipped to Viewlex’s Long Island warehouse space, where it sat for the next year or two.
In 1980, Viewlex Audio-Visual Inc. went bankrupt. The freight and storage company that owned their warehouse began calling up Zeiss planetariums around the country, looking for someone willing to pay $10,000 to purchase Adler’s Zeiss. One of their calls was to Sam Mims, one of the two Planetarium Curators at the Louisiana Arts and Science Center in Baton Rouge. Realizing the danger of this historic artifact being scrapped, Sam got a few investors together including his father and his co-curator Wayne Coskrey, and agreed to purchase the projector. Sam visited New York, inspected the projector, and that, coupled with freight company records, confirmed that this was the Adler’s Zeiss. After finalizing the sales contract, the projector was then shipped to a warehouse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
At this time, the Louisiana Arts and Science Center’s planetarium was also a Zeiss Model III, having originally been installed as a Model II in Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory. But Sam and Wayne didn’t have plans to use the Adler Zeiss for spare parts, they wanted to get it in the hands of someone who could put it to immediate use, or preserve its historical value. The Baton Rouge group ran ads in Astronomy, Sky & Telescope, and even the Planetarian (IPS quarterly journal) magazines looking for a buyer.
By 1987, they found a buyer. Don Greider, a solar engineer from Mechanicsburg, Ohio arranged to purchase Adler’s Zeiss with the goal of re-assembling it in his workshop. That was the last time anybody saw, or heard about the Adler Zeiss for over 20 years.
When Adler Planetarium inadvertently made national headlines in 2008, when a Presidential candidate confused funding a new planetarium projector for an overhead projector, Don Greider heard about the controversy on National Public Radio (NPR). He called Adler Planetarium, offering to help provide replacement parts for Adler’s Zeiss VI projector, which was nearly 40 years old. He also mentioned that he had, in storage, Adler’s original Zeiss II / III projector.
Mr. Smail continued:
This led to a series of phone calls, and even an in-person visit over the next few years, but by the end of 2012, Don had dropped out of communication.
On February 17 of this year (2020), I received a voicemail, forwarded from the museum’s main line. It was Don Greider’s son, Ken. He was making arrangements to clear out the barn, and wanted to know if we were interested in purchasing our Zeiss. On February 29, a small group from Adler drove out to the Greider farm, southwest of Mechanicsburg, Ohio in an attempt to verify that it was Adler’s Zeiss, and to inspect the condition of the parts. So what did we find?
We discovered a number of sealed crates containing portions of a Zeiss Model III Planetarium Projector, as well as a wide range of ancillary components that were part of a Zeiss Planetarium projection system. We also identified a series of shipping labels that traced out the projector’s journey from Chicago to Mechanicsburg. In the packing material surrounding the North planet cage were pieces of the December 21, 1969 (coincidentally, date of the Winter Solstice) Chicago Tribune, further confirming that this was the Adler’s long-lost Zeiss.
After a bit of back and forth, we settled on a price, and purchased our Zeiss back from the Greider family. We made a second trip to the farm in mid-June, to pack up as many of the small pieces as we could fit in our Adler van. The third and final trip was at the end of June; it was to oversee the removal of the final four crates.
All of the crates were then shipped, by truck, to Adler’s off-site storage warehouse in Chicago. Mr. Smail concluded his presentation saying, “We’ll soon be starting the process of determining how we approach restoration and public awareness of the projector, with the eventual goal to restore and reassemble the projector for display at the Adler Planetarium.”
During his prepared remarks, Mr. Smail also said, “If you’re one of the folks like me who try to stay up on planetarium history, you may know much of what I’ve already said, thanks to the incredible research compiled by Glenn Walsh, Brent Sullivan, and Gary Lazich and stored on Glenn’s planetarium history website.”
Through the 1980s and early 1990s, Mr. Walsh had been a lecturer in The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center, Pittsburgh’s science and technology museum from 1939 to 1991), using Buhl’s historic Zeiss II Planetarium Projector. He was also Astronomical Observatory Coordinator, in charge of Buhl’s astronomical observatory using the historic 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope. Brent Sullivan is a planetarium collector and restorer. He has also been Director of Acquisitions and Restorations of the private Planetarium Projector & Space Museum in Big Bear Lake, California. Gary Lazich was Manager of the Russell C. Davis Planetarium in Jackson, Mississippi.
In 1994, Mr. Walsh started a grass-roots effort to prevent an Adler-type mystery from happening to another historic Zeiss Projector: the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector which had operated in Pittsburgh’s Buhl Planetarium from 1939 to 1994. This is the only Zeiss II Planetarium Projector which had never had any major modifications from its 1939 installation. Shortly after Adler Planetarium opened in 1930, several members of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP – which had been established the previous year) visited Chicago to see this new way of explaining astronomy to the general public. As soon as they returned home, they immediately started lobbying to build a planetarium in Pittsburgh. In 1935, the Buhl Foundation (then, the nation’s 13th largest philanthropic foundation) announced that they would build a planetarium in memory of Henry Buhl, Jr., who had owned one of Pittsburgh’s major department stores, Boggs and Buhl. The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science opened in 1939. AAAP co-founder Leo Scanlon (who, in November of 1930, had constructed the world’s first all-aluminum astronomical observatory dome) was one of the first two Buhl Planetarium lecturers.
In 1995, Mr. Walsh petitioned Pittsburgh City Council for a special public hearing on the proposed sale of the historic Zeiss II Planetarium Projector, which is legally owned by the City of Pittsburgh. At the conclusion of the 1995 May 18 public hearing, City Council decided the historic instrument should remain in Pittsburgh. Today, Buhl Planetarium’s historic Zeiss II Planetarium Projector is on public display in the first-floor Atrium Gallery of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center (located one mile southwest of the original Buhl Planetarium building, on the North Shore of the Ohio River).
Special Thanks: Mike Smail, Director of Theaters & Digital Experience, Adler Planetarium, Chicago.