Category Archives: Heber D. Curtis

Information about Heber D. Curtis

Heber D. Curtis from the University  of Michigan faculty and staff portrait  collection

Heber D. Curtis from the University
of Michigan faculty and staff portrait
collection

Biography from the Bentley Historical Library

The Shapley – Curtis Debate on the Scale of the Universe in 1920

Recruitment of Heber Doust Curtis in 1930

Turns out Heber Curtis did not want the job as director (and in fact, turned down the headhunter from Michigan at least once). Yet on a trip through Ann Arbor, the President of the University and Dean of LSA prevailed upon him (with “foot, horse, and guns” – a phrase he may have picked up from his dad, a civil war veteran who lost an arm at Fredericksburg) to do his civic duty as an astronomer and as a UM graduate, and lead the department into the new age. Of course, they did not know the recent economic downturn was actually going to become The Great Depression. Plans for a huge new installation, and enormous new telescopes … the things that prompted Curtis to even consider the job in the first place, eventually had to be abandoned.

13 September 1930 letter by HDC re TakingJobAtDObs

HEBER DOUST CURTIS

Heber D. Curtis from the University  of Michigan faculty and staff portrait  collection

Heber D. Curtis from the University
of Michigan faculty and staff portrait
collection

DIRECTOR 1930-41

Heber Doust Curtis was born in Muskegon, Michigan on June 27, 1872. He attended the University of Michigan but did not study the sciences. While teaching Latin and Greek, he became interested in astronomy as an amateur and volunteered at the Lick Observatory in California. After taking a teaching position in mathematics and astronomy at a small college, he decided to go back to school and study astronomy, receiving a Ph.D. in Astronomy at the University of Virginia in 1902. Curtis built his career at the Lick Observatory and then became the director of the Allegheny Observatory in 1920. In 1930, Curtis returned to the University of Michigan as the director of its observatories. In 1931, the Regents, citing confusion with the name Detroit Observatory, renamed the Observatory complex “The Observatories of the University of Michigan.” The Great Depression ended Curtis’ plans for a new, large reflecting telescope at Michigan, but he was notable for his experience on numerous solar expeditions, his work on stellar spectroscopy, his study of nebulae, his respected teaching, and his valued administrative skills. He took a special interest in the McMath-Hulbert Observatory at Lake Angelus, Michigan. Curtis died at the Detroit Observatory director’s residence on January 9, 1942. He was scheduled to retire in June.