"Firsts" & World Records of

The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

2006 October




       First planetarium projector placed on an elevator, to increase flexibility in the Theater of the Stars;

       First planetarium theater which included a permanent theatrical stage;

       First planetarium theater (and, perhaps, first theater) to install a special sound system specifically designed for the hearing-impaired (remember, this was in 1939 !);

       First publicly-owned building in the City (and, possibly, the State) constructed with air-conditioning;

       First permanent Siderostat Telescope specifically designed for public use; also, largest such Siderostat Telescope permanently mounted and specifically designed for public use;

     First regional Science Fair for school students (from 26 counties in Pennsylvania and West Virginia) in the country started at Buhl Planetarium in the Spring of 1940. Only two state-wide science fairs are older than the annual Pittsburgh Regional School Science and Engineering Fair;

       First official member of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC), world-wide organization of science museums (which now includes nearly 700 member institutions in almost 50 nations), when ASTC was formed in 1973.

       First marriage proposal delivered as part of a laser-light concert (and, possibly, first marriage proposal delivered in a planetarium theater): 1990 September 16 at end of "Aerosmith" concert, performed by Laser Fantasy International Operations Manager Curtis Williams, in the Theater of the Stars of the original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center).

       In the early 1940s, The Sky Magazine, predecessor to today's Sky and Telescope Magazine, was the "official bulletin of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and of the new Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science in Pittsburgh, Pa."


World Records


     The Zeiss Mark II Planetarium Projector, which operated as the primary educational instrument of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science for nearly 55 years, was the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world before being dismantled in October of 2002; the unaltered Zeiss II operated and presented the realistic views of planets and stars in the night sky to the general public, each day of the year (except New Year's Day in the early years; except Christmas Day in the later years) for more than 54 years !!!


     The last major planetarium constructed before World War II (dedicated 1939 October 24);


     The last Zeiss Mark II Planetarium Projector manufactured (dedicated 1939 October 24);


     The fifth Zeiss planetarium installation in America (dedicated 1939 October 24);


     For more than 53 years (beginning in late 1940), Buhl Planetarium housed an exhibit that was considered the largest Mercators Projection Map in the world;


     World record for showing planetarium shows continuously, back-to-back [Buhl Planetarium maintained this world record, alone, until the record was equaled in 2002 by the McFerson Planetarium of the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus, Ohio.] 10 sky shows;


     World record for continuous, back-to-back, public performances in a planetarium [Buhl Planetarium maintained this world record until the record was exceeded by a 32-hour planetarium marathon in 2007 by the Sudekum Planetarium, of the Adventure Science Center in Nashville.] 14 performances (including planetarium sky dramas and laser-light concerts).

     One of the early planning meetings, for creation of the Astronomical League, occurred at The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science in Pittsburgh, in the Summer of 1940. In the last week of 1941 November, 12 amateur societies, including the Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh, had ratified a draft constitution for the Amateur Astronomers' League of America. The League had planned to hold their first official convention, in 1942, in Detroit. Everything changed with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States entry into World War II. The Detroit meeting was cancelled due to gas rationing, and all League activities came to a halt. The Astronomical League was not officially formed until after World War II, at a founding convention, also in Pennsylvania, at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on 1947 July 4..

     The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science / Buhl Science Center housed one of only three large Siderostat-type Refractor Telescopes from 1941 to 1994. The largest [with two 49-inch objective lenses (one for public viewing, the other for photography)], was scrapped after the Paris Exhibition of 1900; the two lenses remain in storage at the Paris Observatory. The second largest, a 15-inch which eventually was operated by the University of Pennsylvania, was dismantled in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century; this telescope is now in storage in Jacksonville. Buhl Planetarium's 10-inch telescope was dismanted in 2002 and is now in storage in The Carnegie Science Center warehouse..

The opening of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science was a big deal in Pittsburgh, particularly occurring during the Great Depression. In 1939, Pittsburgh only had eight museum-type organizations:

- Fort Pitt Blockhouse - Downtown (later, incorporated into Point State Park, which was built around the Blockhouse - Blockhouse built 1764; donated by Mary Schenley to the Daughters of the American Revolution for preservation in 1894)

- Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania - early museum in Oakland (Society founded 1859 January 10)

- Phipps Conservatory - Schenley Park, Oakland (1893 December 7)

- Carnegie Institute including two museums and two other public institutions: The Carnegie Library, The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The Carnegie Museum of Art, and The Carnegie Music Hall - Schenley Park, Oakland (1895 November 5)

- Pittsburgh Zoo - Highland Park (1898 June 14)

- Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum - Oakland (1910)

- Nationality Rooms, Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh - Oakland (first four rooms dedicated 1938: Scottish, Russian, German, and Swedish Rooms)

The official dedication of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, before an invitation-only list of VIPs, occurred on Tuesday Evening, 1939 October 24 at 8:30 p.m.

The dedication was aired on three Pittsburgh radio stations: aired live on KQV and WWSW; aired two hours later on KDKA (note that all of these are AM radio stations; Pennsylvania's oldest FM radio station, Pittsburgh's WWSW-FM, was not established until 1940 January 1).

Well-known newspaper columnist Gilbert Love published an eight-page supplement about Buhl Planetarium in The Pittsburgh Press the Sunday before Buhl Planetarium was dedicated and opened.

The grand public opening of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science occurred on Wednesday, 1939 October 25.


gaw 2006 Oct. 11
Update: 2022 Oct. 18

"Firsts" & World Records of
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
2006 October

Authored By Glenn A. Walsh *** Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
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2006 October

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