Solar Eclipse In 1900

The recent early spate of hot weather (way too hot in April…even for North Carolina) got me thinking about the sun, which in turn reminded me of a recent conversation I had with one of my predecessors. She had recently come across a description of a solar eclipse in 1900. Eclipses are always fascinating subjects, but this one was particularly interesting because the best place to view it was in Anson County, North Carolina. So, teams of scientists from all over the world traveled to Wadesboro to set up their observation equipment. So far, that is all I know about it; the conversation with my predecessor moved on to other topics. However, I did find this interesting image of a team of British scientists and their equipment. [The image description for the NC Collection’s Photographic Archives is below the image.]


“[British Astronomical Association Party] Wadesboro, N. C.” One of twelve photographs documenting several observational teams, and their facilities and equipment used for the observation of a solar eclipse on May 28, 1900. [Supplied information within brackets; left side of printed caption missing.]

14 thoughts on “Solar Eclipse In 1900”

  1. It would be interesting to check some newspapers for articles about the eclipse. It occurred on May 28, 1900 at around 9 in the morning. Teams of scientists came from all over, apparently, and photography played a major role in the scientific investigation of this phenomenon. I think that some papers described a “forest of telescopes” that pointed to the heavens on that day.

    See, I knew that specialization in the history of science would turn out good for something after all.

  2. I love the report! Take a look at what happened the first time the expedition leader encountered “lightning bugs”! Great find!

  3. From the report linked to above:

    At six o’clo’ck on the morning of the second day our train
    pulled up at our destination, a little forest clearing, where there
    was a modest range of wooden sheds. There, however, was
    nothing to indicate that we had arrived at a spot of any conse-
    quence, and yet in truth this was the railway station of Wadesborough, N.C., a little township which, for the time being,
    was exalted to one of high importance in all the States, and this
    fact was soon impressed upon us. A steady climb of a mile
    by pine woods and cotton fields now brought us to our hotel,
    where we found ample accommodation reserved for all our party
    and breakfast already waiting.

    Half-an-hour later we received a personal visit from Professor
    Young, and then at last we began to realise the extent of our
    good fortune, and how much true kindness and hospitality was
    being lavished upon us. On the opposite side of the little street,
    drawn up under the shade of the wooden houses, was a pair-
    horse carriage, which by an act of extreme generosity on the
    part of the residents had been engaged to be at our disposal
    through the whole of our stay. For the rest, Professor Young
    assured us we should learn more if we came to his camp after
    breakfast. And this was certainly so. We learned that every-
    thing had been thought out by the Professor himself for our
    benefit and comfort ; that a portion of his own specially selected
    site had been reserved for us, and that a carpenter was already
    in attendance to receive our instructions for the erection of a
    suitable shed.

    I shall have to say so much more about Professor Young
    before I have done that I had better give some description of
    his observing station in which we found him already fairly
    established. This occupied the highest ground around, being
    a field well removed from habitations, and open to the south-
    west, in which direction an uninterrupted view was obtained
    over a broad valley sloping upwards to the distant sky-line.
    A substantial wooden building had been erected for photo-
    graphic purposes and to house the larger instruments brought
    from the Princeton Observatory, while the rest of the extensive
    equipment was ranged without on the southern front. It was
    all a fair sample of what American astronomers could and would
    do on their own soil, but we were to see more.

  4. The obituary of Professor Charles Augustus Young of Princeton, mentioned above, may be found in the New York Times on January 5, 1908. He was the inventor of the automatic spectroscope. . .

  5. Here is the link to the photos of the Wadesboro Solar Eclipse Expedition held by the Smithsonian: http://photography.si.edu/SearchImage.aspx?S=1&IDC=181

    And here is the link to the report from the North Carolina Geodetic Society’s search for the meridian markers laid by that expedition: http://www.ncgs.state.nc.us/st/County_reports/Anson_County-Wadesboro_eclipse_expedition.pdf

    Y’all, can you tell I don’t want to be doing budget checks. . . ?? I am rewarding myself with something fun between bouts of addition checking

  6. Apparently Tom English of Guilford Technical College is an expert on the event: 1900 May 28: the Day Wadesboro North Carolina was the Center of American Astrophysical Research
    Tom English, Guilford Technical Community College
    The Solar Eclipse of 1900 May 28 provided a unique opportunity to mobilize American astronomers around a specific research
    effort. A charter committee of the newly formed Astronomical and Astro-physical Society of America (later to be called the AAS),
    chaired by Simon Newcomb, but run by George Ellery Hale, attempted to coordinate and standardize observing efforts for the
    eclipse. The eclipse track crossed the southeastern U.S. from New Orleans to Norfolk, and observers were stationed all along the
    shadow path. Astronomers were thickest on the ground, however, in Wadesboro, NC, with major expeditions fielded there from
    Princeton, Yerkes, the Smithsonian Institution, and the British Astronomical Association. The Wadesboro expeditions represented a
    changing of the guard in American astrophysics. Pioneers of the first generation of astrophysics in America, S. P. Langley and C.
    A. Young, brought large groups, and individuals who would influence American astronomy in the coming decades, such as Hale and
    Henry Norris Russell, were also there. The presentation will give a who’s-who of astronomers at Wadesboro, explain why that NC
    town was the station of choice, and outline the eclipse research efforts undertaken there.

    http://www.gtcc.edu/services/observatory/docs/nca/2006.pdf

  7. Here is a newspaper artile from the Anson Newspaper May 31, 1900

    THE SUN ECLIPSED
    IDEAL WEATHER MAKES ASTROMOMERS HAPPY AWE INSPRISING SPECTACLE
    ____________________
    The Scientist Gathered at Wadesboro to View the Eclipse Under most favorable circumstances—The Town Thronged with visitors and otherwise—Prof. Barnard and Rev. Mr. Bacon tell the story of the eclipse for the M. & I. Wadesboro was overcrowded with people on Monday who had come here to view the total eclipse of the sun. The early trains brought in scores of people and the excursion train from Charlotte brought in hundreds more. By 7 o’clock the streets were thronging with people carrying either lenses or smoked glass, who were looking for some prominent place from which to get a good view of the eclipse. Every building in town, from which could be gotten a good view, was literally crowded with people who were anxiously awaiting the on-coming of the shadow. Hundreds and hundreds of people were on Carr’s mount, from which place a view of the country could be gotten for 40 miles in every direction. At exactly 7:36 o’clock all eyes were turned in the direction of the sun and the appearance of the edge of the moon cutting the upper right hand portion of the sun assured the on-lookers that the eclipse was entering its first phase. About 8 o’clock the atmosphere took on a peculiar color and continued to grow darker till the time of totality.
    A few minutes before the period of totality the horizon in the southwest grew very dark, resembling the sudden approach of the thunder cloud, and a dull yellowish hue overspread the landscape. This cloud travelled at a rapid rate and before we could realize it the total eclipse was on.
    Words cannot describe the solemn grandeur of the scene at this moment. Where all a moment before were full of exultations and the expressions of delight as to the beauty of the spectacle, it was now silence and a feeling of awe came over one and the solemnity of the occasion could be keenly felt.
    The change in the temperature was very perceptible, the thermometer registering considerably lower than when the eclipse began.
    Indeed it was grand a sight during the period of totality. The corona shone forth with great brilliancy, encircling the moon The streamers from the sun were most beautiful and took their directions in about the same line as the moon entered. Near the edge it seemed to be a dim yellowish blue color and growing into a white silvery brilliancy as it receded. Several stars show brightly during the period. Mercury was a Little high of right of the sun, while Venus was to the left and nearer the horizon. Owing to the moon being father from the earth than at other times, the period of totality was only about one minute and 25 seconds.
    The darkness was about that of a moonlight night, but not so bright. It was still dark enough to cause chicken and other animals to start for home. Chickens were heard to crow and the lowing of cattle could be heard in the pastures.
    Perhaps the most beautiful part of the eclipse was just at the end of the period of totality, when the light of the sun burst forth from around the moon as if a huge arc light had been turned on. It was, indeed, a brilliant light, and the change from darkness to light was so quick and sharp that one could scarcely look at it with the naked eye. The eclipse then gradually disappeared and at 10:05 o’clock the sun shone forth with the same splendor and grandeur as before.

  8. Hi – I’m from Wadesboro and we owned much of the land from which the eclipse was viewed, hosting teams from around the world before a time that it was known not to.

    I’m curious to connect with Kevin Cherry if he is still a part of this thread, or anyone else who may have an interest. Thanks.

    W. Leake Little

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