Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/341

This page has been validated.
335
UNITED STATES NATIONAL OBSERVATORY'

the navy on November 30, 1841, recommended to the secretary of the navy the erection of a permanent depot for the charts and instruments belonging to the navy. They estimated the cost of site and buildings at $50,000. In his annual report to the president, dated December 4, 1841, the secretary of the navy approved the recommendation of the commissioners. From President Tyler the proposal for a new depot or observatory passed to congress, and especially to the house committee on naval affairs.

One of the principal members of this committee was Francis Mallory, a Whig representative from Virginia. On March 15, 1842, Mallory reported to the house a bill which provided for the construction of a depot of charts and instruments at a cost of $25,000. A report which accompanied the bill set forth the inadequacy of the accommodations on Capitol Hill, and the need of extending the work and usefulness of the old depot. According to Mallory the existing observatory was so frail that twice during the winter of 1841-1842 its doors had been blown off and the instruments had been left exposed to the weather. He proposed that the new depot should have increased accommodations for the study of hydrography, astronomy, magnetism and meteorology. In respect to astronomy, he said that "not only has the navy failed to contribute to the common stock from which all our navigators borrow, but our country has never yet published an observation of a celestial body, which bore the impress by authority'"; and that until Gilliss began his work in 1838, no continuous astronomical observations had been made under the direction of the government.

An account of the movement in congress has been left us by Gilliss:

Much delay occurred with the Naval Committees in congress. The Hon. Francis Mallory, to whom it was referred by the House committee, espoused the cause warmly, but the majority kept aloof from the depot (although so near) until the entire winter passed away. Finally, on the 15th March, 1842, I succeeded in persuading the only member of the committee to visit the observatory who was skeptical, and on that very day a unanimous report and bill were presented to the House of Representatives. Believing the chances of success would be greater if a bill could be passed by the Senate, by the advice of Mr. Mallory, I waited on the Naval Committee of the Senate, but my entreaties for a personal inspection of our wants were put off from time to time. The question was probably decided by an astronomical event.

At a meeting of the National Institute, at which the Hon. William C. Preston was present, I gave notice of having found Encke's comet with the 3½ feet achromatic, the comet being then near its perihelion. A few days subsequently I made what was intended to be a last visit to the chairman of the Senate committee, and found Mr. Preston with him. As soon as I began the conversation about the little observatory, Mr. Preston inquired whether I had not given the notice of the comet at the institute, and immediately volunteered, 'I will do all I can to help you.' Within a week a bill was passed by the Senate.