Charles Greeley Abbot

Charles Greeley Abbot

For other people named Charles Abbot, see the Charles Abbot navigation page
Charles Greeley Abbot
Dr. Charles Greeley Abbot
Born (1872-05-31)May 31, 1872
Wilton, New Hampshire, United States[1]
Died December 17, 1973(1973-12-17) (aged 101)
Riverdale, Maryland, United States
Nationality American
Fields astrophysics
Alma mater MIT
Notable awards Henry Draper Medal (1910)
Rumford Prize (1915)

Charles Greeley Abbot (1872–1973) was an American astrophysicist and the fifth secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, serving from 1928 until 1944.[1][2][3] Abbot went from being director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, to becoming Assistant Secretary, and then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution over the course of his career. As an astrophysicist, he researched the solar constant, research that led him to invent the solar cooker, solar boiler, solar still, and other patented solar energy inventions.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory 2
  • Life and work as Smithsonian Secretary 3
  • Later life and legacy 4
  • Research work 5
  • Further reading 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life and education

Abbot, at age eleven, with the water wheel he invented.

Charles Greeley Abbot was born in water wheel to power a saw, and a bicycle. He dropped out of school when he was 13 to become a carpenter. Two years later he went back to high school.[5] He attended Phillips Andover Academy.[1][5] When a friend of his went to Boston to take the entrance exam to get into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Abbot went for the chance to visit Boston. However, upon arrival, he was uncomfortable visiting Boston alone and chose to take the exam instead. He passed and his family gathered the funds to send him to MIT for one year. He started out studying chemical engineering, but eventually moved on to physics.[5]

He would graduate in 1894 with a Master of Science in physics.[1][2][6] Abbot would meet Samuel P. Langley on MIT campus when Langely visited seeking an assistant.[5] In 1895, he would start working as an aid at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.[1][2][7]

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

While at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), Abbot would work under

  • Oral history interviews with Charles G. Abbot, 1973 from the Smithsonian Institution Archives
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir

External links

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Charles Greely Abbott, 1872-1973". Smithsonian History.  
  2. ^ a b c d e "Abbey, C.G.". Encyclopedia Britannica. I: A-Ak - Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 2010. p. 12.  
  3. ^  
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Devorkin, David H. "Charles Greeley Abbot". Biographical Memoirs. The National Academies Press. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Menzel, D.H. (1977). "Charles Greeley Abbot.". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 18: 136–139.  
  6. ^ a b Warner, Deborah Jean (1975). "Biographical Memoirs: Charles Greeley Abbot". The American Philosophical Society Year Book 1975. The American Philosophical Society. pp. 111–116. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "Abbot Becomes Director of SAO". Institutional History Division. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  8. ^ "North Carolina Eclipse Expedition of 1900". Institutional History Division. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  9. ^ "SAO Mount Whitney Shelter Erected". Institutional History Division. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  10. ^ "Div. of Radiation and Organisms Established". Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1953. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  11. ^ a b "C. G. Abbot Named Assistant Secretary". Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year. Smithsonian Institution Archives. 1919. p. 3. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  12. ^ "World Is Yours is Suspended". Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1942. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  13. ^ "Charles G. Abbot Retires as Secretary". Annual Report for the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1945. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. 1946. p. 7. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  14. ^ "Celebration of Abbot's 83rd Birthday". Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1955. Smithsonian Institution. 1955. p. 10. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  15. ^ "Secretary Emeritus Abbot Dies". Torch. Smithsonian Institution Archives. 1 January 1974. p. 1. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  16. ^ "Charles Greeley Abbot Award". American Solar Energy Society. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 


  • Davis, Margaret. "Charles Greeley Abbot." The George Washington University Magazine. 2: 32.35.
  • DeVorkin, David H. ""Defending a Dream: Charles Greeley Abbot's Years at the Smithsonian." Journal for the History of Astronomy. 21.61 (1990): 121-136.
  • Hoyt, Douglas V. "The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Solar Constant Program." Reviews of Geophysics and Space Physics. 17.3 (May 1979): 427-458
  • Oehser, Paul H. Sons of Science: The Story of the Smithsonian Institution and its Leaders. New York: Henry Schuman (1949).
  • Ripley, Sidney Dillon. "The View From the Castle: Weather prediction is not enough: what's needed is an early-warning system to monitor change in the environment." Smithsonian. 1.2 (May 1970): 2.
  • The 1914 Tests of the Langley "Aerodrome". Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution (1942).
  • An Account of the Astrophysical Observatory of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution (1966).
  • Adventures in the World of Science. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press (1958).
  • "Astrophysical Contributions of the Smithsonian Institution." Science. 104.2693 (1946): 116-119.
  • Samuel Pierpont Langley. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution (1934).
  • A Shelter for Observers on Mount Whitney. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution (1910).
Selected publications by Charles Greeley Abbot

Further reading

An instrumentalist,[4] he invented the solar cooker, which was first built at Mount Wilson Observatory,[5] the solar boiler,[5] and held fifteen other patents related to solar energy.[1][6] For his research and contributions to the sciences, Abbot was awarded a Henry Draper Medal in 1910 and a Rumford Medal in 1916.[4]

Abbot began his astrophysics research focusing on solar radiation before proceeding to chart cyclic patterns found in solar variations. With this research he hoped to track solar constant in order to make weather pattern predictions.[1] He believed that the sun was a variable star which effected the weather on Earth, which was criticized by many contemporaries. In 1953, he discovered a connection between solar variations and planetary climate. This discovery allowed general climate patterns to be predicted 50 years in advance.[2] He did field work at the Smithsonian Institution Shelter, which was built during his tenure as Director at SAO, Lick Observatory, and Mount Wilson Observatory. At Lick, he worked with W.W. Campbell. To fight critics, Abbot would utilize balloons with pyrheliometers installed on them for measurements. He was the first scientist in America to do so, with the balloons reaching upwards of 25 kilometers. One balloon returned data that allowed Abbot to determine the solar constant at the highest point of the Earth's atmosphere. Later in his research career, he turned his focus on solar energy use.[4]

Abbot's solar cooker at Mount Wilson Observatory.

Research work

On May 31, 1955, the Smithsonian held a birthday party for Abbot, marking his 83rd birthday and his 60th year of association with the Smithsonian. The event was held at the Smithsonian Castle and a bronze bust of Abbot, by Alicia Neatherly, was presented, and donated to the National Gallery of Art.[14] Charles Greeley Abbot died, at age 101 in Maryland, on December 17, 1973.[1][15] The American Solar Energy Society has an award named in Abbot's honor, which is awarded for contributions to solar energy research.[16]

Later life and legacy

He was the first Smithsonian Secretary to retire, ending his tenure on July 1, 1944. Following retirement, he was awarded Secretary Emeritus status[1] and proceeded to continue his research work.[13] The first Smithsonian holiday party would be held during his tenure. At the party, Abbot sang and played the cello for the partygoers. While in Washington, he was a deacon at the First Congregational Church. He also played tennis frequently at the former tennis courts at the Smithsonian Castle.[1]

Ten years later, on January 10, 1928, he became the fifth Secretary of the Smithsonian after the death of Charles Doolittle Walcott.[2] Abbot would also maintain his position as Director of the Astrophysical Observatory. In 1927, Walcott had finalized the Smithsonian's strategic plan, which Abbot took on responsibility for upon his election as Secretary. The Smithsonian began a capital campaign in 1929, coinciding with the start of the Great Depression. During this tenure, Abbot oversaw the Smithsonian's participation in Works Progress Administration projects, including the Federal Art Project. Projects included new buildings and artwork at the National Zoo, and the start of the Smithsonian's first media project, a radio show called The World is Yours.[1] The program would be ceased in 1942 due to World War II.[12] In the 1930s an expansion was approved for the National Museum of Natural History building, which would not begin until the 1960s. The Institute for Social Anthropology was also transferred to the Smithsonian during this time.[1] While Secretary, Abbot would fail to acquire the National Gallery of Art for the Smithsonian. Abbot's role in the United States National Museum was also minimal, and was under the primary care of Assistant Secretary Alexander Wetmore.[4]

Abbot would become the Assistant Secretary at the Smithsonian Institution in 1918,[1] upon the death of Frederick W. True.[11] In his role as Assistant Secretary he would oversee the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, the International Exchange Service, and the SAO.[11] He also co-created the Smithsonian Scientific Series books, which helped raise funds for the Smithsonian.[4]

Abbot with a container full of printouts of solar observations, 1968

Life and work as Smithsonian Secretary

[1] researchers in the United States.biophysics This helped to develop the first wave of [10][1]