History of the Milwaukee Astronomical Society


If you think the Milwaukee Astronomical Society (MAS) is just like every other astronomy club, we hope this document will prove this just isn't the case! Though there are a couple of things that set us apart, it is primarily our extensive observatory and this document will center on its beginnings and evolution. The other thing that has historically set us apart is our concentration on scientific work, many times to the exclusion of what some amateurs would consider "fun" astronomy. With its contributions to science, our club can boost that it has probably more award winning members than any other club. Some of those awards are among the most prestigious. And finally, it is the age of the club. It was founded in 1932 and that makes it among the oldest amateur astronomical societies.

Our observatory is not ordinary. It is one of the largest and most extensive amateur club observatories in the entire world. We currently have 11 structures, 8 of them observatories. We have 9 permanent or semi-permanently mounted instruments. We have a array of portable instruments, many of them we made, apparently one of the largest astronomy library for a club, and it all sits on our 3.1 acre site. And most remarkably, our observatory was nearly entirely funded and built by the membership!

Why is it important to know and understand our club's history? Beside it being an interesting story, it gives you insight as to where the club is now and help us to plan where it might go in the future. For we didn't just build the observatory as it exists today. What we have couldn't have been built in just a couple of years. What we have is the culmination of 80 years of effort.

The letter "A" stands for "Armfield." As in Luverne Armfield. If you do any observations for the American Association of Variable Star ObsePortrait of Luverne Armfieldrvers (AAVSO), they will assign you a four letter code, the first character always corresponding to your last name initial. Why 4? Because they've run out of 3 letter codes and before that 2 letter codes. One of our most important founding members, Edward Halbach, made his first observation in 1932 and he had a 2 letter code, HK. Luverne Armfield had the observer code of “A”! Consequently, you can see he was one of the first amateurs to observe variable stars.

But here at the MAS, “A” also stands for Armfield. We have the Armfield Observatory, but very few are aware of the official name because nearly everyone calls it the A-Dome. And the telescope in the A-Dome is called the A-Scope, even though the telescope there is actually the Edward A Halbach telescope. Why is that? Because before that, the instrument was the Luverne Armfield Telescope. You will learn how Armfield was so instrumental in setting the direction of our society.

We have broken up the story of the MAS into smaller segments. You can navigate to the various chapters from the links below or those that appear at the top of each page.

1932-33: Formation of the MAS

1934-35: An Offer of Land

1936-37: Observatory Established and Construction

1938-46: Observatory Dedication / Growth and the War

1947-51: A Grand Plan and a New Observatory

1952-63: The Quonset, Moonwatch, Expansion Plans

1964-77: Restrooms, Grazes, Portascopes, Halbach Retires