Research Papers in Physics and Astronomy


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Published in Sky & Telescope May 1996, Vol. 91, No. 5. Copyright (c) 1996 Sky Publishing Corp. Used by permission.


Astronomy has been taught at the University of Nebraska since it first opened its doors in 1871, but for almost half of this time the university had no telescope larger than a Cinch Brashear refractor. Goodwin DeLoss Swezey, the astronomy professor at the turn of the century, had a small observatory built on campus to house this and other astronomical instruments.
Despite Swezey's ambitions for a larger telescope, the university's resources were limited. So he proposed to build a 12-inch refractor himself with the help of Charles S. Minnich, a nearby country doctor and amateur astronomer. Not only could Minnich set broken legs, pull teeth, and dispense medicine, but he had installed the first telephone system in the area, poles and all. He promised Swezey that he would grind the crown and flint elements for the 12-inch telescope.
Minnich apparently never charged the university for his labor, time, and expertise; he did it merely for the love of creating something worthwhile. Meanwhile, Swezey drew up 44 sheets of blueprint for the telescope tube, mounting, and drive mechanism. He was able to persuade the engineering department to assign the actual construction to students. In this way, the 18-foot-long tube, 12-foot-high base, and all the various parts of the mounting and positioning system were cast and machined, little by little, over eight years.

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