The Class of 1941 Observatory
In 1857, under the direction of Professor William Chauvenet, the Division of Astronomy and Navigation of the U.S. Naval Academy built a refracting telescope containing a lens ground by Alvan Clark and Sons of Cambridgeport, MA. The telescope was quite well known during the 19th century and was borrowed by the U.S. Naval Observatory in 1869 to research the solar eclipse from a vantage point in Iowa. It was subsequently used for instruction at the Naval Academy until the early 20th century, when the original observatory (located by the old shore line, between the present-day Chapel and Chauvenet Hall) was demolished and the telescope was given to the USNO for safekeeping. In 1986, the Astronomy Club of USNA learned of the existence of the original lens and proposed restoring the telescope in a small, modem observatory. The Physics Department endorsed the project for its educational, scientific and historical significance, and the Class of 1941 provided the necessary funding for both the telescope and an observatory as their fifty-year gift to The Academy.
CDR Paul D. Shankland USN (Ret), USNA Class of 1983, was a very active member of the US Naval Academy Astronomy club, and finished his career as the director of the US Naval Observatory, Flagstaff (AZ) Station. Upon his untimely death in 2020, his family made a monetary gift to the USNA Physics Department in his memory, funds that were used to modernize the telescope’s drive and control systems. A plaque on the telescope pedestal commemorates this significant bequest.
Alvan Clark and Sons, the “Rembrandts” of lens makers, were the premier producers of telescope lenses during the 19th century and, in many ways, the quality of their work has yet to be equaled. Fewer than 2 dozen Clark lenses of comparable or larger size are still in existence. Muffoletto Optical Company, Inc. of Baltimore tested the lens on 15 November, 1988, and found it to be a “quality optical component by modern standards.”