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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/725

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THE UNITED STATES NAVAL OBSERVATORY.

of a National Observatory, furnished with suitable instruments and apparatus for astronomical observation, and that the President should cause such observations to be made as would determine the longitude of the Capitol with the greatest practicable degree of exactness.

But no steps were taken at that time to carry out the resolution, and the subject was not again referred to till 1818. A third memorial was then presented, soliciting not the erection of an observatory, but simply that additional observations be made to test the accuracy of results already obtained, in order to insure a correct determination of our longitude from Greenwich. Nearly three years of tedious delay were required before the requisite resolution was passed which insured the modest commencement of what is destined to become one of the great scientific institutions of the country, and, we trust, of the civilized world.

In 1821 Mr. Lambert, the original memorialist, was appointed by the President "to make astronomical observations by lunar occupations of fixed stars, solar eclipses, or any approved method adapted to ascertain the longitude of the Capitol from Greenwich." In 1823, President Monroe submitted to Congress Mr. Lambert's final report, in which he stated that by the diligent use of such instruments for his work as the country afforded, by the employment of different methods, and by the assistance of competent persons in various sections of the United States to test the accuracy of his work, he had endeavored to fulfill his commission to the extent of his ability. He gave, as the mean result, the longitude of the Capitol 76° 55' 30" 54 west from Greenwich. Thus the first step in the establishment of an observatory was taken in determining the longitude of the Capitol; for, without such an institution furnished with suitable instruments and apparatus, no accurate measarements of the positions of the heavenly bodies could be made, and the computation of a nautical almanac or astronomical ephemeris would be impossible.

The next movement that was made toward the accomplishment of the object was in 1825, when President Adams, in his first message, urged upon Congress the establishment of a National University. Connected with this, he earnestly recommended the erection of an astronomical observatory, to watch the phenomena of the heavens, and to give periodical publications of observations. The matter was referred to a select committee, who presented an elaborate report in 1826, accompanied by a bill to establish an observatory in the District of Columbia. Although the location, cost of the edifice, and the expense of carrying it on, were freely discussed, no action was taken in the matter; and Mr. Adams's recommendation, though associated with the progress of the nation, and independent of party or personal interest, was allowed to lie unnoticed.

But, after years of neglect and indifference on the part of Congress, a few officers of the navy had the honor of taking the first direct ac-