Charles Greeley Abbot

Charles Greeley Abbot (May 31, 1872 – December 17, 1973) was an American astrophysicist and the fifth secretary of the Smithsonian Institution , serving from 1928 until 1944. [1] [2] [3]Abbot went from being director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory , Assistant Secretary, and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution on the course of his career. As an astrophysicist, he researches the solar constant , researches that led him to invent the solar cooker , solar boiler , solar still , and other patented solar energy inventions.

Early life and education

Charles Greeley Abbot was born in Wilton, New Hampshire . [1] [4] His parents were farmers and he was the youngest of four children. [4] As a youth he built and invented numerous things, such as a forge to fix tools, a water wheel to power saw , and a bicycle . He dropped out of school when he was 13 to become a carpenter . Two years later he went back to high school . [5] He attended Phillips Andover Academy . [1] [5] When a friend went to Bostonto the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , Abbot went to Boston. However, upon arrival, he was uncomfortable visiting Boston alone and looking for the exam instead. He passed and his family gathered to MIT for one year. He started out studying chemical engineering , but eventually moved to physics . [5]

He would graduate in 1894 with a Master of Science in Physics . [1] [2] [6] Abbot would meet Samuel P. Langley on MIT campus when Langley visited seeking an assistant. [5] In 1895, he would be working at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory . [1] [2] [7]

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

While at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), Abbot would work under Samuel P. Langley . Langley would go there to change His focus from solar radiation to aeronautics , with Abbot Taking Over solar radiation research. Abbot would participate in many expeditions . In 1900 he, along with Langley, would travel to Wadesboro, North Carolina to observe a solar eclipse , [8] followed by another eclipse expedition to Sumatra in 1901. During his expedition he would be traveling to Algeria , Egypt , South Africa , australia, and other countries, often in partnership with the National Geographic Society . Abbot would become acting director of SAO in 1906 [7] and in 1907, Abbot became the Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, following the death of Samuel P. Langley. [1] While Langley was still Director, he had visited Mount Whitney , and it would be a great place for an observatory. In the field of radiation therapy, he was born in 1929. [9] As Director, he would hold a position in his retreat, Abbot would open the Radiation Biology Laboratory in 1929, to study radiation effects on plants, and other organisms. [1] [10]This helped to develop the first wave of biophysics researchers in the United States. [1]

Life and work as Smithsonian Secretary

Abbot would become Assistant Secretary at the Smithsonian Institution in 1918, [1] upon the death of Frederick W. True . [11] In his role as Assistant Secretary he would oversee the Smithsonian Institution Libraries , the International Exchange Service , and the SAO. [11] He also co-created the Smithsonian Scientific Series books, which raised funds for the Smithsonian. [4]

Ten years later, on January 10, 1928, he became the fifth Secretary of the Smithsonian after the death of Charles Doolittle Walcott . [2] Abbot would also maintain his position as Director of the Astrophysical Observatory. In 1927, Walcott had finalized the Smithsonian’s strategic plan , which Abbot took over as Secretary of State. The Smithsonian began a capital campaign in 1929, coinciding with the beginning of the Great Depression . During this tenure, Abbot oversaw the Smithsonian’s involvement in Works Progress Administration projects, including the Federal Art Project . Projects included new buildings and artwork at theNational Zoo , and the Smithsonian’s first media project, a radio show called The World is Yours . [1] The program would be ceased in 1942 due to World War II . [12] In the 1930s an expansion was approved for the National Museum of Natural History Building, which would not begin until the 1960s. The Institute for Social Anthropology was also transferred to the Smithsonian during this time. [1] While Secretary, Abbot would fail to acquire the National Gallery of Art for the Smithsonian. Abbot’s role in the United States National Museumwas also minimal, and was under the primary care of Assistant Secretary Alexander Wetmore . [4]

He was the first Smithsonian Secretary to withdraw, ending his tenure on July 1, 1944. Following retirement, he was awarded Secretary Emeritus status [1] and proceeded to continue his research work. [13] The first Smithsonian holiday party would be held during its tenure. At the party, Blood Abbot and played the cello for the partygoers. While in Washington, he was a deaconat the First Congregational Church. He also played tennis at the Smithsonian Castle. [1]

Later life and legacy

On May 31, 1955, the Smithsonian held a birthday party for Abbot, marking his 83rd birthday and his 60th year of association with the Smithsonian. The event was held at the Smithsonian Castle and a bronze bust of Abbot, by Alicia Neatherly , was presented, and donated to the National Gallery of Art . [14] Charles Greeley Abbot died, at age 101 in Maryland , on December 17, 1973. [1] [15] The American Solar Energy Society has an award named in Abbot’s honor, which is awarded for contributions to solar energy research. [16]

The Abbot Crater on the Moon has been named after him.

Research work

Abbot ‘s solar cooker at Mount Wilson Observatory.

Abbot began his astrophysics research focusing on solar radiation before proceeding to cyclic patterns found in solar variations . With this research he hoped to track solar constant in order to make predicted weather pattern. [1] He believed that the sun was a variable star on which the weather on Earth, which was criticized by many contemporaries. In 1953, he discovered a connection between solar variations and planetary climate. This discovery allowed general climate patterns to be predicted 50 years in advance. [2] He did field work at the Smithsonian Institution Shelter , which was built during his tenure as director at SAO,Lick Observatory , and Mount Wilson Observatory . At Lick, he worked with WW Campbell . To fight critics, Abbot would use balloons with pyrheliometers installed on them for measurements. He was the first scientist in America to do so, with the balloons reaching upwards of 25 kilometers. One balloon returned data that allowed the earth’s atmosphere . Later in his research career, he turned his focus on solar energy use. [4]

An instrumentalist , [4] he invented the solar cooker , which was first built at Mount Wilson Observatory, [5] the solar boiler , [5] and 15 other patents related to solar energy . [1] [6] For his research and contributions to the sciences, Abbot was awarded to Henry Draper Medal in 1910 and to Rumford Medal in 1916. [4]

Further reading

Selected publications by Charles Greeley Abbot
  • The 1914 Tests of the Langley “Aerodrome” . Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution (1942).
  • An Account of the Astrophysical Observatory of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution (1966).
  • Adventures in the World of Science . Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press (1958).
  • “Astrophysical Contributions of the Smithsonian Institution.” Science . 104.2693 (1946): 116-119.
  • Samuel Pierpont Langley. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution (1934).
  • Shelter for Observers on Mount Whitney. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution (1910).
  • Davis, Margaret. “Charles Greeley Abbot.” The George Washington University Magazine . 2: 32.35.
  • DeVorkin, David H. “” Defending a Dream: Charles Greeley’s Abbot’s Years at the Smithsonian. ” Journal for the History of Astronomy, 21.61 (1990): 121-136.
  • Hoyt, Douglas V. “The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Solar Constant Program.” Reviews of Geophysics and Space Physics . 17.3 (May 1979): 427-458
  • Oehser, Paul H. Sons of Science: The Story of the Smithsonian Institution and its Leaders. New York: Henry Schuman (1949).
  • Ripley, Sidney Dillon . “The View from the Castle: Weather prediction is not enough: what’s needed is an early warning system change in the environment.” Smithsonian . 1.2 (May 1970): 2.


  1. ^ Jump up to:q “Charles Greely Abbott, 1872-1973” . Smithsonian History . Smithsonian Institution Archives . Retrieved 11 April2012 .
  2. ^ Jump up to:e “Abbey GC”. Encyclopædia Britannica . I: A-Ak – Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2010. p. 12. ISBN  978-1-59339-837-8 .
  3. Jump up^ Roberts, Walter Orr (May 1974). “Charles Greeley Abbot” . Physics Today . 27 (5): 65-67. Bibcode : 1974PhT …. 27th..65R . doi : 10.1063 / 1.3128601 .
  4. ^ Jump up to:g Devorkin, David H. “Charles Greeley Abbot” . Biographical Memoirs . The National Academies Press . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  5. ^ Jump up to:f Menzel, DH (1977). “Charles Greeley Abbot” . Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society . 18 : 136-139. Bibcode : 1977QJRAS..18..136M . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  6. ^ Jump up to:b Warner, Deborah Jean (1975). “Biographical Memoirs: Charles Greeley Abbot” . The American Philosophical Society Year Book 1975 . The American Philosophical Society. pp. 111-116 . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  7. ^ Jump up to:b “Abbot Becomes Director of JSC” . Institutional History Division . Smithsonian Institution Archives . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  8. Jump up^ “North Carolina Eclipse Expedition of 1900” . Institutional History Division . Smithsonian Institution Archives . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  9. Jump up^ “SAO Mount Whitney Shelter Erected” . Institutional History Division . Smithsonian Institution Archives . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  10. Jump up^ “Division of Radiation and Organisms Established” . Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1953 . Smithsonian Institution Archives . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  11. ^ Jump up to:b “CG Abbot Named Assistant Secretary” . Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year . Smithsonian Institution Archives. 1919. p. 3 . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  12. Jump up^ “World Is Yours is Suspended” . Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1942 . Smithsonian Institution Archives . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  13. Jump up^ “Charles G. Abbot Retires as Secretary” . Annual Report for the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1945 . Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. 1946. p. 7 . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  14. Jump up^ “Celebration of Abbot’s 83rd Birthday” . Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1955 . Smithsonian Institution. 1955. p. 10 . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  15. Jump up^ “Secretary Emeritus Abbot Dies” . Torch . Smithsonian Institution Archives. January 1, 1974. p. 1 . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .
  16. Jump up^ “Charles Greeley Abbot Award” . American Solar Energy Society. Archived from the original on 26 January 2011 . Retrieved 11 April 2012 .

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