William Lewis Elkin

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William Lewis Elkin
Born (1855-04-29)April 29, 1855
New Orleans, Louisiana
Died May 30, 1922(1922-05-30) (aged 67)
Nationality United States
Fields Astronomy
Institutions Yale Observatory
Alma mater University of Strasbourg
Notable awards Lalande Prize (1908)

William Louis Elkin (April 29, 1855 – May 30, 1933) was an American astronomer.

He was born in New Orleans to Jane and Lewis Elkin, one of five children but the only one to survive to adulthood. Following the death of her husband in 1867, Jane travelled abroad for the following seventeen years, taking along William. As a result of a broad education, he learned to speak fluently in German and French, and acquired a basic understanding of Italian and Spanish. He also received a broad knowledge of music from many nations, and would retain a deep love of music for the remainder of his life.

He became seriously ill in 1870, possibly from dysentery, and thereafter he would suffer health problems for the remainder of his life. In 1872 he joined the Royal Polytechnic School in Stuttgart, Germany, where he studied civil engineering, graduating in 1876. While at school, however, he gained an interest in astronomy and decided to make that his life's work. After graduation, he spent four years working at the Observatory of Strasbourg. In 1880 he was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Strasbourg, with a dissertation on the parallax of Alpha Centauri.

A year before Elkin left Strassburg, he had a meeting with the directory of the Cape Observatory, David Gill. The two men became fast friends and Gill extended Elkin an invitation to Cape Town. Dr. Elkin sailed for South Africa in December, 1880, arriving in 1881. While at the observatory, Gill and Elkin collaborated to measure stellar parallaxes. Their efforts were noted for their particular accuracy, at least for that time period, and elimination of systematic errors. After studying the parallax of several first magnitude stars, Elkin made measurements of the Pleiades, followed by some northern stars. In subsequent years, Gill and Elkin also performed parallax measurements of selected asteroids.

In 1896 he married Catharine Adams, although the couple would not have any children. The same year Dr. Elkin became the director of Yale Observatory. After a lengthy record of observations lasting about fifteen years, he retired at age 55, suffering from ill health.

Awards and honors[edit]


  • Schlesinger, Frank. "Biographical Memoir of William Lewis Elkin, 1855–1933" (PDF). National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
  • Leonard, John William (1903). Who's who in America, Vols. 28-30. Chicago: Marquis. 
  • Johnson, Rossiter; Brown, John Howard (1904). The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. The Biographical Society. 

External links[edit]