Brief History of
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

By Glenn A. Walsh

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Internet Web Site Master Index for the History of
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh

The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science(during the 1980s, also known as the Buhl Science Center) opened as this country's fifth major planetarium on October 24, 1939 on the Lower North Side of Pittsburgh(now located within an office and apartment complex known as Allegheny Center), formerly the downtown business district of Allegheny City, Pennsylania; Buhl was built on the site of the former Allegheny City Hall(the City of Pittsburgh annexed the City of Allegheny in December of 1907). Buhl opened featuring a Zeiss II Planetarium projector, which is now the oldest operating, major planetarium projector in the world! "The People's Observatory," featuring a ten-inch, Siderostat-type, refractor telescope(now, second largest of its type), was dedicated by Harvard College Observatory Director Harlow Shapley on November 19, 1941.

In addition to the emphasis in Astronomy, The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science was one of the nation's first museums to provide exhibits and presentations on various Physical Sciences. Up until that time, major museums, specializing in the Physical Sciences, only existed in Philadelphia(Franklin Institute, including the Fels Planetarium) and Chicago(Museum of Science and Industry, separate from the Adler Planetarium); in Los Angeles, the recently completed Griffith Observatory and Planetarium also included a small amount of gallery space for exhibits in Astronomy and the Physical Sciences. Previously, Natural History Museums in several large cities; including New York: American Museum of Natural History(which included the newly constructed Hayden Planetarium), Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History(separate from the Museum of Science and Industry and Adler Planetarium), Washington: Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of Natural History, and Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History; took the role of the Science Museum.

Buhl also provided some presentations and exhibitry in the Life Sciences. An epideoscope(antique overhead projector) was used for Buhl's "Micro Zoo" presentation, which showed microscopic life on a projection screen. "Transpara, The Talking Glass Lady," used a full-sized model of a woman to show the major organs and bones of the human body, in a short public presentation. "Wonder of Wonders," a sex-education program, was carefully presented by a registered nurse; this program was primarily given to school groups, where the students had received parental permission(special parent presentations, prior to a school group's visit to Buhl, were always offered). Starting in May of 1983, chicks (and sometimes also ducklings) were hatched each weekend in the "BioCorner" Embryology Exhibit, using a specially redesigned hatchery which showed the entire hatching process; patrons, particularly children, could pet, feed, and hold the young chicks and ducklings, under staff supervision.

The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science was constructed by the Buhl Foundation(the nation's thirteenth largest foundation in 1939). The Buhl Foundation was founded, using a bequest of more than $11 million(1927 dollars) from the estate of
Henry Buhl, Jr.(1848-1927), a wealthy Allegheny City merchant. Henry Buhl's business, the Boggs and Buhl Department Store(1869-1958), which catered to the carriage trade(particularly customers from Allegheny City's "Millionares Row" on Ridge Avenue, a few blocks west of the department store), was located one block south of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, on Federal Street--now the location of the 1960s urban renewal project, Allegheny Center. The will of Herny Buhl provided the funds for the Buhl Foundation, in the memory of his late wife Louise, for charitable works in the Pittsburgh area, with some emphasis on the city's North Side.

The Buhl Foundation completely funded the construction and furnishing of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science building at a cost of $1,070,000(1939 dollars); the Buhl Foundation then presented the building along with all equipment and furnishings as a gift to the City of Pittsburgh. This included the Zeiss Model II Planetarium Projector, imported from the Zeiss Optical Works in Jena, Germany, at a cost of $135,000(1938 dollars). "The People's Observatory," when completed and opened to the public on November 19, 1941, included a ten-inch, Siderostat-type, refractor telescope. Although designed specifically for use by the public, the telescope was manufactured to professional observatory specifications by the Gaertner Scientific Company of Chicago, at a cost of $30,000(1941 dollars).

Attendance in Buhl Planetarium's first year of operation(1939-1940) reached 187,153. Over the years, attendence waxed and waned. Attendance grew with the launch of the first satellite, Russia's Sputnik, and the beginning of the manned space program. Interest in science and astronomy boomed when Americans thought that the Soviet Union was ahead of the United States in science and technology; at this time, Buhl began the "Junior Space Academy" classes, which eventually evolved into Buhl's Science Academy. Attendance, along with America's interest in scientific research, began to decline once America "won" the space race and landed the first men on the Moon: 1969 July 20. However, with a slight change of name[The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science was shortened to simply Buhl Science Center] and new emphasis on several different sciences, Buhl's attendance reached 250,000 by the mid-1980s.

The Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh, formed in 1929, was active in convincing the Buhl Foundation to build a planetarium in Pittsburgh; Association co-founder Leo J. Scanlon (who passed-away on November 27, 1999, at age 96) had seen Chicago's Adler Planetarium, the nation's first, in 1930. The Buhl Foundation presented the one million-dollar facility to the City of Pittsburgh in 1939, but continued operating the building until February 3, 1982. On that date, the Buhl Foundation set up an independent Board of Directors for the, then, Buhl Science Center, and provided the Science Center with a small endowment. On January 1, 1987, the Buhl Science Center merged with The Carnegie Institute, in anticipation of either expansion of the current Science Center building or construction of an entirely new Science Center building.

The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science closed as a public museum on August 31, 1991, prior to the October 5, 1991 opening of The Carnegie Science Center, which includes the new Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium and Observatory; The Carnegie Science Center is located one mile southwest of Buhl, on the North Shore of the Ohio River. The Buhl Planetarium building continued to be used for Science Center Science and Computer classes until February of 1994. The City of Pittsburgh, which legally owns the property, building, planetarium projector, and telescope, is currently seeking a new tenant to restore and reuse this historic facility.

Links to History of the Planetarium

Walsh, Glenn A. "100 Years Ago: Planetarium Concept Born ." Blog Post.
SpaceWatchtower 2014 Feb. 24.

History of the Planetarium:
Chartrand, Mark R. "Fifty Year Anniversary of a Two Thousand Year Dream
[The History of the Planetarium]."

Planetarian 1973 September.

History of the Science Center:
Friedman, Alan J. "The evolution of the science museum."
Physics Today 2010 October: 45.

Oldest Planetarium ?

Zeiss Planetarium Projectors:
Carl Zeiss Company: German *** English *** History

Brief Summary of Pre-World War II Zeiss Planetarium Projectors

Zeiss IV Planetarium Projectors in Operation in 1980
(First new Zeiss projectors built after World War II)

Planetarium Projector & Space Museum , Big Bear Lake, California

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English-language version of German site on world planetaria.

Great Paris Exhibition Telescope of 1900
Largest Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope that every existed.

Orrery: Classic Mechanical Planetarium

Organizations of Planetarium and Science Museum Professionals

International Planetarium Society (IPS)

Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA)
Oldest planetarium organization in North America.

Dr. James Stokley, first Director of Pittsburgh's Buhl Planetarium (1939-1940), gave the keynote address at the first meeting of planetarium personnel that led to the formation of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association, on 1964 November 21 in Lansing, Michigan.

Middle Atlantic Planetarium Society (MAPS)

Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)

American Association of Museums (AAM)

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)

Planetaria and Science Museums/Science Centers

Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, Chicago

The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh:

Including the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world !
Theater of the Stars and the historic Zeiss II Planetarium Projector
The Peoples' Observatory including second largest Siderostat-type telescope in use

Planetarium of The Children's Museum and Science Center at the Imperial Centre for the Arts and Sciences, Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Children's Science Explorium at Sugar Sand Park, Boca Raton, Florida

Clark Planetarium (originally Hansen Planetarium), Salt Lake City

Albert Einstein Planetarium, Washington:
Albert Einstein Planetarium
Brief History of the National Air and Space Museum
National Air and Space Museum
Smithsonian Institution

Fels Planetarium, Philadelphia:
Fels Planetarium
History and Mission of The Franklin Institute Science Museum
Franklin Institute

Gengras Planetarium, West Hartford, Connecticut:
Part of The Children's Museum, formerly the Science Center of Connecticut
Regarding Institution Name Change: News Release *** News Article

Griffith Observatory and Planetarium, Los Angeles:
A History of Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory General Information

Hayden Planetarium, New York City:
(Second Hayden Planetarium building, part of the Rose Center for Earth and Space)
Hayden Planetarium
Hayden Planetarium Academic Site
A History of Planetariums: Short YouTube Video (pre-show for new Hayden Planetarium sky show) regarding history of the Hayden Planetarium, New York City, Mon., 2020 Feb. 17.
Zeiss Mark IX: Current Planetarium Projector
Rose Center for Earth and Space
American Museum of Natural History

Charles Hayden Planetarium, Boston:
(Funded by the Charles Hayden Foundation, which also provided the original Hayden Planetarium in New York City}
Charles Hayden Planetarium
Short History of Boston Museum of Science
Boston Museum of Science

Hoover-Price Planetarium
of the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, Canton, Ohio:
The mezzanine of the Hoover-Price Planetarium is the new home of seven large astronomical murals, painted by Canton native Benjamin Byrer, which originally were painted for and hung in the Hall of the Universe of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science in Pittsburgh. Originally, the rumor had been that these murals had been moved to the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia in Beckley, West Virginia. However, Kent State University Physics and Astronomy Professor Francis G. Graham [Founder of the American Lunar Society, who had been a long-time Planetarium Lecturer in the original Buhl Planetarium] found these murals when visiting the Canton planetarium.

When Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center opened in 1991, these murals were given back to the artist, who donated them to his hometown planetarium, the Hoover-Price Planetarium in Canton, Ohio; these murals are now displayed in the Planetarium's Jane Williams Mahoney Mezzanine. The seven murals, painted by Benjamin Byrer, are titled:

* Aurora Borealis: The Northern Lights (5)
* Earth and Comet - from the Moon (repainted in 1970 June): Photo 1 (5) *** Photo 2
* Billions of Suns - Our Galaxy and Its Neighbors (5)
* Eclipse of the Moon
* Eclipse of the Sun: Photo 1 (5) *** Photo 2
* The Great Nebula in Orion (5)
* The Great Globular Star Cluster in Hercules

Each year, Mr. Byrer also displayed his "Barnwood Paintings" in Buhl Planetarium's Mezzanine Gallery, at the entrance to the annual exhibition of the Miniature Railroad and Village in the Bowdish Gallery from November through February.

Johannesburg Planetarium: Zeiss Mark III
(originally Zeiss Mark II in Hamburg)
More Information

The Korkosz Projector (1937 Stellarium)
of the Springfield (Massachusetts) Science Museum:
More Information

Dimon R. McFerson Planetarium of the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), Columbus, Ohio:
Opened in new Center of Science and Industry building, on west bank of the Scioto River, in 1999.
Evans, Walker. "COSI Planetarium to Reopen in November." 2014 Sept. 22.
The COSI Planetarium will reopen 2014 Nov. 22 with a Digistar 5 digital Fulldome system, 10 years after it closed and in the 50th anniversary year of COSI. “The digital system means the new COSI Planetarium can offer virtually endless educational opportunities,” said COSI President & CEO David Chesebrough. Once completed, the new COSI Planetarium will feature a 60 foot dome with a seating capacity of 200, which will make it one of the largest in Ohio. An ongoing crowdfunding campaign has raised approximately $700,000 of the $1 million goal necessary to modernize and reopen the exhibit.
Mothballed indefinitely, immediately after Labor Day, 2004 !
Dimon R. McFerson Planetarium
In 2002, McFerson Planetarium equals Buhl Planetarium world reecord of back-to-back planetarium show perfomances.
Center of Science and Industry

McLaughlin Planetarium, Toronto - 1968 to 1995:
Facebook Page Video: History of Toronto's McLaughlin Planetarium - 2019
Also talks about possible demolition of planetarium and construction of new University of Toronto building.
Children's Museum Replaces Planetarium - 1998
Children's Museum Closes in 2002 - Lease Not Renewed
Royal Ontario Museum

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
Cover Web Page

Morrison Planetarium, San Francisco - Oldest American-built planetarium:
More Information

Visitors' Center at the NASA John Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field, Cleveland:
Visitors' Center *** Tips Visiting NASA
John Glenn Resarch Center at Lewis Field *** NASA
Also see Planetarium and Observatory at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Osaka, Japan Planetarium:
Osaka Science Museum
More Information

Irene W. Pennington Planetarium, Baton Rouge:
Irene W. Pennington Planetarium
Solar System Gallery
Louisiana Art and Science Museum
According to the 1980 Carl Zeiss book, Window to the Universe, the Baton Rouge Zeiss is actually a Zeiss III (although it is sometimes referred to as a Zeiss IV). All Zeiss III projectors are revamped Zeiss II projectors. Zeiss IV was the first new Zeiss projector produced following World War II.
More Information
* Photographs (Photos credit: Daniel Spano):
** Zeiss Projector (static gallery exhibit)
** Explanatory plaque for Zeiss Projector
** New Irene W. Pennington Planetarium in Downtown Baton Rouge
** Miller, Robin. "LASM's old planetarium projector rubbed shoulders with Hollywood star James Dean."
The Advocate, Baton Rouge LA 2023 Oct. 6. First retrieved 2023 Oct. 7.
That's right, the Zeiss is a projector — a 13-foot, two-headed contraption that many Baton Rougeans would recognize from childhood.
It began projecting stars onto the domed ceiling of the Louisiana Art & Science Museum's planetarium during its days as the Louisiana Art & Science Center at Louisiana's Old Governor's Mansion and eventually made the move to the museum's present home in the old Illinois Central Railroad station along River Road.
The Irene W. Pennington Planetarium was built there in 2003, and the museum has been celebrating its 20th anniversary throughout 2023.
It was classified as a Model II when first installed and later upgraded to a Model III. The Louisiana Art & Science Museum upgraded the projector to a Model IV after purchasing it in 1964.
Yes, that was three years before the planetarium officially opened in 1967, so the idea for a planetarium was always in the works. The planetarium continued operating behind the old mansion after the museum moved to the train station in 1976.
Its doors were finally closed in 1988 because of electrical problems, then the new facility opened in 2003.
"The museum sent the Zeiss projector off to be repaired in 2003," Barhorst said.
But digital technology retired it to the front window display almost 50 years after the Oct. 17, 1955, premiere of "Rebel Without a Cause." It was the only film in which Dean received top billing, but he would never witness its success — a car crash on Sept. 30, less than a month before the movie's opening, cut his life short at age 24.

Zeiss II Planetarium Projector, Rome, Italy - The historic Zeiss II Planetarium Projector, which was in use in Rome from 1928 to 1980, will soon be reassembled for display in front of the new Rome Planetarium, according to an electronic mail message received by the author, from Stephen Wheeler, a translator working for the Rome Planetarium. More information.

Rosicrucian Planetarium, San Jose, California

Planetarium of the Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels:
Planetarium utilizing oldest operating Zeiss II Projector -- Projector used in Jena, Germany beginning in 1926. After World War II, it was rebuilt with some refinements added.
Planetarium Cover Page
More Information

Sao Paulo, Brazil Planetarium

The Nathan and Fannye Shafran Planetarium and Ralph Mueller Observatory
in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History:
Nathan and Fannye Shafran Planetarium
Historic Hanna Star Dome - Ohio's first planetarium (1936)
Ralph Mueller Observatory, which includes the historic 10.5-inch Warner & Swasey telescope, constructed originally for the Western Reserve University (now Case-Western Reserve University) in 1899 and which includes optics from Pittsburgh's J.A. Brashear Company.
Cleveland Museum of Natural History: Link 1 *** Link 2
Also see Visitors' Center at the NASA John Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field, Cleveland

State Museum of Pennsylvania Planetarium, Harrisburg:
The State Museum of Pennsylvania

SpaceQuest Planetarium, Indianapolis: