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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/726

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

tion in the creation of the institution. In 1830 the Depot of Charts and Instruments for the Navy was established in Washington. This was accomplished under the orders of the Navy Commissioners, and with the sanction of the Secretary of the Navy. Lieutenant Goldsborough, through whose influence principally the bureau was created, was intrusted with the charge of it. He collected from New York and other places the chronometers, sextants, theodolites, and other instruments and charts of the navy, and located them in a building opposite the residence of the Attorney-General, Hon. William Wirt. A transit instrument was afterward added, and the naval Depot of Charts and Instruments was in working order. One duty of the officers was the careful rating of all chronometers belonging to the navy, which was at first effected by sextant and circle observations; but afterward with a thirty-inch transit instrument. This transit was mounted within a small circular building upon a brick pier having a base twenty feet below the surface, and is noteworthy as the first astronomical instrument erected for the navy at Washington.

In 1833 Lieutenant Wilkes succeeded to the charge of the depot, and obtained permission to remove the office to Capitol Hill, where it remained until 1842. He erected here at his own expense an observatory sixteen feet square, and mounted a five-foot transit. But no regular observations were made till 1838, on the departure of the exploring expedition, the principal use made of the transit being the determination of time. In 1837 Lieutenant Gilliss was left in charge of the depot, and, during the absence of the exploring expedition, and in connection with it, made invaluable observations on moon culminations, occultations, and eclipses. There was not a visible culmination of the moon, occurring when the sun was an hour above the horizon, from 1838 to 1842, nor an occultation after the 15th of June, 1839, with one exception, which he did not personally observe. He also completed an important series of magnetic and meteorological observations.

As the work took on larger proportions under such devoted leadership, and valuable and expensive instruments were added, the unsuitableness of the building, the defects of the transit-instrument, and the want of space to erect a permanent circle, became more evident. Earnest solicitations were made for an appropriation for a permanent establishment, and the subject was brought before Congress by the Secretary of the Navy in 1841. Tedious and disheartening delay occurred before Congress was roused to an appreciation of the importance of the enterprise. But, after persistent effort on the part of its supporters, at the last hour of the session of 1841-'42 a bill passed both Houses without discussion, authorizing the Navy authorities to contract for the building of a suitable institution, and that it should be located on any unappropriated land in the District of Columbia which the President deemed suitable. Thus was the future observatory officially recognized.