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Article by David Menke - 1987
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Phillip Fox and the Adler Planetarium

David H. Menke
Copernican Space Science Center
1615 Stanley St.
New Britain, Connecticut 06050

[reprinted from the Planetarian, January 1987]

Eyeglasses were invented about 1275; the telescope in 1608; observing areas have existed since the beginning of time. But the planetarium came much later--in 1919. There were a number of forerunners of the first planetarium however.

Astronomical clocks have been around virtually as long as civilization. Stonehenge was an elaborate astronomical clock.The earliest mechanical planetarium came in the late 14th century; then came the orrery in 1682, named for Charles Boyle, the fourth Earl of Orrery. After those we have some more modern devices.

In 1905, Oscar Von Miller of the Deutches Museumin Munich decided to add a planetary machine to the museum. Working with Franz Meyer of Carl Zeiss Optics, and with Max Wolf, an astronomer and director of the Borden Observatory, Von Miller developed the concept of a large hollow globe with many holes and external lights. To observe, one would enter theglobe. In 1912, the Chicago Academy of Sciences built a 15-foot hollow globe made of sheet iron, with 692 holes, and with phosphorescent paint for cometsand nebulae. This was known as the Atwood Sphere, and it is still at the Academy. It is the intention of the Academy to refurbish it to return itto operation.

Meanwhile, the Carl Zeiss Company financed the completion of a sophisticated projection planetarium system known as theZeiss Mark I. It was demonstrated to specialists in the field, at the Zeissfactory in August 1923 using a 16-meter hemispherical concrete dome. Officialsat the Deutches Museum were quite impressed with it and developed a 9.8meter dome for this prototype. The Zeiss I was re-installed in the smaller dome of the Deutches Museum in September 1923, and opened to the publicon October 21, 1923. This made Oscar Von Miller the first "Planetarium Director" in the world with regard to this more modern type of projectionplanetarium.

Less than a year passed when Carl Zeiss engineer, Walther Villiger suggested a new, improved Zeiss planetarium projector.This new Zeiss, known as the Mark II, was designed for much larger theaters--up to 23 meters.

The Zeiss II was an immediate success. Within two years 6 other cities besides Munich and the Hague had planetariums (all within Germany). The following year, 1927, found 3 more European cities,including Vienna, with Zeiss II projector theaters. In 1928, three additional cities, including Rome, had a Zeiss II.

The United States did not get its first planetarium until 1930. The Adler Planetarium was opened in Chicago in May 1930 using a Zeiss II projector. The first director of the Adler Planetarium was Phillip Fox.

The planetarium was a result of a gift to the people of Chicago from Max Adler. Adler had traveled throughout Europe and was most impressed with the planetarium theaters he saw there. Upon his retirement as Vice-President of Sears, he decided to give a gift of a planetarium to Chicago, "to contribute to the popular knowledge of astronomy,"as he was quoted. Originally, the planetarium was estimated to cost $600,000. However, upon final completion at opening day, the amount spent was closer to $1 million.

When it first opened, its hours of operation were10 am to 10 pm daily all year round. Planetarium lectures were Monday through Friday, 11 am, 3 pm and 8 pm. On Saturday they were at 11 am, 2 pm, and3 pm. Sundays the presentations were at 3 pm and 4 pm. Each demonstration was 50 minutes long.

The planetarium held 500 visitors on moveable seats.The dome was covered with white linen. Dr. Fox did many of the lecture demonstrations himself, and he used an optical light as a pointer, since he could not reachthe surface of the 21-meter dome to point out objects.

During the first few weeks of operation, attendance averaged some 18,000 to 20,000 per week! Admission was FREE on Wednesday,Saturday, and Sunday, and the rest of the week it cost 25 cents.

Phillip Fox was an artist, scholar, writer, musician,soldier, and scientist. He was born in Manhattan, Kansas on March 7, 1878.By the time he was 19, he had earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics at Kansas State Agricultural College.

Fox enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army in 1898 at the start of the Spanish-American War, and so distinguished himself in the Philippines that when he left the Army in 1899, he was a second lieutenant.

He began teaching math at a military school in Kansas in 1899 while pursuing graduate studies at Kansas State College; he earned a master's degree there in 1901. At the urging of his cousin, physics professor Ernest Fox Nichols of Dartmouth College, Fox earned a second bachelor's degree in physics while attending Dartmouth. Fox was appointed assistant astronomer at he Yerkes Observatory by the noted astronomer E. Hale, and he served there from 1903 to 1905. Fox did further study in astronomy at the University of Berlin in 1905 and 1906, and later earned a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Chicago while he was working as an instructor of astrophysics there.

He met and fell in love with a young woman from Chicago, Ethel Snow. They were married in August 1905, and during their nearly forty years together they raised four children: Steve, Bertram, Gertrude, and Robert. Steve went into the steel business; Bertram became an economics professor; Gertrude and Robert were both physicians.

In 1909 Dr. Fox joined the faculty of the astronomy department at Northwestern University in Chicago. Over the next twenty years, he served as Director of the Dearborn Observatory and for the last few years he was the Chairman of the Department of Astronomy. He wrote books on stellar physics and stellar spectroscopy during that time, and also served as the secretary of the Astronomy Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

During the First World War, Fox rejoined the Army. He was commissioned a major of infantry in 1917 while in France, and later was promoted to Lt. Colonel and served as the assistant chief of staff of the 7th Division.

Fox remained in the Army Reserve and at the time of his appointment as Director of the Adler Planetarium, he was a Colonel and served as the Commander of the 43rd Infantry of the 86th Division based at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.

On May 28, 1929, a year before its doors opened, and while it was still under construction, the new Adler Planetarium acquired its first director, selected by Max Adler himself. It was Professor Phillip Fox. He was selected as the acting director, and in doing so, Fox took a one year leave of absence from Northwestern University to serve in this new capacity.

Over the next year, Dr. Fox threw his entire energy into the preparations for the opening of the United States' first planetarium.He traveled to Europe twice, one time for a period of two months, to get ideas that would help him to found a high quality planetarium. In addition,during his travels he spent time looking for supplies, materials, and equipment to augment the planetarium. He wanted a really good science museum to be part of the Adler Planetarium. Fox spent time in England, France, and Germany,and was able to acquire a number of items such as astrolabes, sundials,and the like, to use in programming and for display in the new science complex.

Upon its opening, Dr. Fox decided to present a series of 50 lecture-demonstrations to the public. He did many of them himself,lecturing virtually each day to capacity crowds. A newspaper reporter, giving his impression after having observed Dr. Fox in command of the planetarium,reminded him of the "Joshua" of old. Dr. Fox literally "jazzed up" the universe for all to enjoy.

Even Colonel Dr. Professor Fox, an astute astronomer and veteran of two wars, was most impressed with the concept of such a great planetarium facility. He said, "For years I have been a close student of astronomy and I did not realize it was possible to produce such a remarkable duplication of the heavens as I saw them in the operation of the planetarium at Jena. I lost all sense of being in an enclosure as the stars were projectedon the great dome of the building.

"The aspects of the sky are seen from different stations on the earth by regulation of the instruments. The increasing elevation of the pole star as one travels north is readily revealed. By another adjustment, the precession of the equinoxes is shown and one sees the skies as they appeared to Hipparchus, who discovered and evaluated precession."

The purpose of the planetarium, and especially of the Adler Planetarium, was described by Dr. Fox: "If we can bring people to realize better than they have before that the whole cosmos is ruled by law, that it is orderly, that it is a unit, then the planetarium will perform a much desired purpose," he said.

Fox further commented, saying, "We hope that the planetarium, in short, will result in more law and order in mundane,earthly affairs. And we hope, too, that it will help to show that there should be no cleavage between individuals, nations, and races."

After serving many years as Director of the Dearborn Observatory, he made this noteworthy comment, "At the Dearborn Observatory I noticed on 'public nights' that the majority of interested visitors were children and elderly people. Probably there are reasons for that. Children always are interested in the heavens; their minds are forever groping about them. In middle life people are occupied with their daily affairs. But old folk, again, turn to contemplation, and contemplation of the heavens; they have more leisure to think.

"I believe, though, that here at the planetarium all ages will wish to come; I believe that we will have a good cross section of the population...."

Dr. Fox was concerned about the growth of the large cities and the brightening of the natural skies as a result of population increase. He said, "In the modern city, with its smoke and its night sky with artificial light, there is scant opportunity to see the greatest of natural wonders, the starry heavens. The planetarium is a splendidly successful achievement for the renewal of this knowledge among city dwellers."

And, finally, commenting on the importance of the planetarium, Fox related, "Every arrangement of the heavenly bodies that has been visible on the earth since Noah sailed the ark can be reproduced by the planetarium. People think that astronomy is a 'useless science,'but a planetarium is just as valuable to mankind as the art institute or the civic opera. We are dependent upon the sun for all our food and energy.We will eventually learn to store the sun's heat as we now store ice."How true he was over 50 years ago.

His planetarium philosophy was simple: make each planetarium presentation self-contained, and make it so the program can reach everyone attending the planetarium that day. In reality, his philosophy is not markedly different from the ideas of most of today's planetarium directors.

Phillip Fox served nearly eight years as director.He left the Adler Planetarium on May 1, 1937 to assume the directorship of Chicago's new Museum of Science and Industry, and remained there until1942.

With the Second World War looming, Fox accepted a commission as a Colonel in the Army in March 1941 and served as commander of the Gulf Coast Recreation Areas. In May 1942 he was appointed commandant of the Army Signal Corps at Harvard University; in September 1942 he became commandant of the Army Electronics Center at Harvard. In September 1943,he retired from active duty in the Army, but he remained at Harvard as a lecturer in electronics. Colonel Dr. Phillip Fox suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at Harvard on July 21, 1944, at the age of 66. A funeral was held for him at the Chapel at Harvard in Cambridge, and his ashes were interredin his family plot in Manhattan, Kansas.

The directors of the Adler following Fox's departure include: Maude Bennot, (1937-1945), F. Wagner Schlesinger (1945-1957), Albert Schatzel (1957-1959), Robert Johnson (1960-1966), and finally, Joseph Chamberlain(1968-), who attended Columbia University.

It is interesting to note that Maude Bennot served as acting director of the planetarium. She was never appointed director.Also, there was a period of six months after Albert Schatzel left office that there was no director. In addition, for the year and a half after Robert Johnson left the job, Mort Kaplo served as the head of the planetarium,even though he was not the director, nor the acting director; he was merely the most senior staff member.

Many staff members of the Adler Planetarium learned skills to prepare themselves to become leaders in the planetarium field elsewhere; two examples are Dr. Lee Simon, who went on to direct the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco; and Dr. Lee Shapiro who became the head of the Morehead Planetarium at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

The Adler Planetarium is located in Chicago on Lake Michigan and is an imposing place. It has a Zeiss VI that was installed in 1970. Its dome is 20.7 meters in diameter and it now has 392 permanent seats. It is open daily from 9:30 am until 4:30 pm, and on Friday evening sits Public Observatory is open. It presents sixteen regular public showsand fifteen school shows each week during the school year. During the summer,there are thirty-six public shows per week. The Adler also has an extensivescience museum. The current director is Joseph Chamberlain.

Many thanks to James Sweitzer and Joseph Chamberlain of the Adler Planetarium, and John All sites of the Chicago Astronomical Society for helping with this article.


Reprinted from the Planetarian, Vol 16, #1, January 1987. Copyright1987 International Planetarium Society. For permission to reproduce please contact Executive Editor, Sharon Shanks.

See also "A History of Griffith Observatory."

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