Alvan Clark

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Alvan Clark
1891 AlvanClark Boston.png
Born(1804-03-08)March 8, 1804
DiedAugust 19, 1887(1887-08-19) (aged 83)
AwardsLalande Prize (1862)
Rumford Prize (1866)
Scientific career

Alvan Clark (March 8, 1804 – August 19, 1887), born in Ashfield, Massachusetts, the descendant of a Cape Cod whaling family of English ancestry, was an American astronomer and telescope maker.


He started as a portrait painter and engraver (c.1830s-1850s), and at the age of 40 became involved in telescope making. Using glass blanks made by Chance Brothers of Birmingham and Feil-Mantois of Paris, his firm Alvan Clark & Sons ground lenses for refracting telescopes. Their lenses included the largest in the world at the time: the 18.5-inch (47 cm) at Dearborn Observatory at the Old University of Chicago (the lens was originally intended for Ole Miss), the two 26-inch (66 cm) telescopes at the United States Naval Observatory and McCormick Observatory, the 30-inch (76 cm) at Pulkovo Observatory (destroyed in the Siege of Leningrad; only the lens survives), the 36-inch (91 cm) telescope at Lick Observatory (still third-largest) and later the 40-inch (100 cm) at Yerkes Observatory, which remains the largest successful refracting telescope in the world.

Although not specifically searching for double stars, he did make a number of discoveries while testing his completed telescope objectives,[1] including Mu Herculis, 8 Sextantis, and 95 Ceti.[2] One of Clark's sons, Alvan Graham Clark, discovered the dim companion of Sirius. Two craters bear Clark Sr.'s name. The crater Clark on the Moon is jointly named for him and his son, Alvan Graham Clark, and one on Mars is named in his honour.[3] His other son was George Bassett Clark; both sons were partners in the firm.

Clark was also competitive in target shooting and received a patent for his device to allow bullets to be seated into a muzzle loading rifle without damage to either the bullet or the rifle's muzzle. Exclusive license to this patent (1,565 of April 24, 1840) was made to Edwin Wesson, brother of Daniel B. Wesson.[4]

In 1880, Clark was elected as a member to the American Philosophical Society.[5]

Alvan Clark Refractor Telescope at Lowell Observatory

See also[edit]

Image gallery[edit]

Portraits by Clark


  1. ^ Argyle, Bob; Swan, Mike; James, Andrew (2019). An Anthology of Visual Double Stars. Cambridge University Press. p. 288. ISBN 9781108601702.
  2. ^ Clark, A.; Dawes, W. R. (June 1857). "New Double Stars, with remarks". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 17: 257. Bibcode:1857MNRAS..17..257C. doi:10.1093/mnras/17.9.257.
  3. ^ de Vaucouleurs, G.; et al. (September 1975). "The new Martian nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union". Icarus. 26 (1): 85−98. Bibcode:1975Icar...26...85D. doi:10.1016/0019-1035(75)90146-3.
  4. ^ Hamilton, John D. "Alvan Clark and the False Muzzle". American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin (79): 31–37.
  5. ^ "APS Members History". Archived from the original on 2021-05-14.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Recent Deaths. Alvan Clark." Boston Daily Evening Transcript, 19 August 1887.
  • "Autobiography of Alvan Clark." New-England Historical and Genealogical Register 43 (January 1889): 52-58.
  • Raymond S. Dugan (1930). "Clark, Alvan". Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Warner, Deborah Jean. Alvan Clark & Sons, Artists in Optics. Washington, 1968.

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