Prepared Remarks of Mike Smail, Director of Theaters and Digital Experience, Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
"There and Back Again: 90 Years of Adler's Zeiss Mark II"
During the First Webinar of the International Planetarium Society (IPS) History of the Planetarium Working Group:
History of Planetaria - What to Preserve, and How
Thursday, 2020 September 3, 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. EDT / 14:00 to 15:30 UTC

In January of 1970, the Adler Planetarium de-installed our original Zeiss planetarium projector (the first one in the Western Hemisphere) and shipped it to Jackson, Mississippi, where it would be re-installed in the soon-to-be-constructed city planetarium. But when the Russell C. Davis Planetarium opened in downtown Jackson in 1978, the installed projector was a Minolta S-IV. So what happened to the Adler’s Zeiss? Why wasn’t it installed in Jackson? And where is it now? These questions have been the source of a fair bit of online discussion among planetarium historians and collectors. And now, we have the answers.

But first, a bit of backstory. The Zeiss Mark II was in place for Adler’s opening, May 12, 1930. In 1961, Adler upgraded their projector, adding the two collars or ruffs at the base of each starball that held individual projectors for the 42 brightest stars, an upgraded Moon projector, and new chromium-coated, photo-engraved star plates (replacing the original hand-punched copper plates).

By 1968, Zeiss had released their newest large planetarium projector, the Model VI, and the Adler was in the midst of researching their next planetarium projector purchase. Coincidentally, that same year, William Clark, President of Observa-Dome in Jackson, Mississippi, approached the Adler to inquire if we’d be willing to sell their projector. Zeiss had already declined to offer Adler any sort of trade-in credit for it, so this seemed like a good way to earn some additional money, but also ensure that the projector would continue to educate audiences into the future. Like many communities of the time, Jackson was attempting to access matching funding from the National Defense Education Act to purchase the projector. In order to meet those timelines, Observa-Dome acted as a go-between, purchasing the projector from the Adler, and then selling it to Jackson.

December 31, 1969 was the Model II/III’s last day in operation. Technicians from Adler and Observa-Dome spent the next two weeks carefully disassembling the projector, packing it into the same crates that the Mark VI had just arrived in, from Oberkochen, Germany.

As previously mentioned, the Davis Planetarium opened in 1978, but with a Minolta S-IV projector at its core. Why not the Zeiss? When the team in Jackson investigated the actual costs of re-constructing and updating the Zeiss, they found it would be upwards of $230,000. And when they reached out to planetarium manufacturers for bid quotes, they received an offer from Viewlex (then Minolta’s US Distributor) that was about $100,000 less than Zeiss repair costs. Viewlex also offered Jackson $30,000 in trade-in for the Adler’s Zeiss. I can’t say I blame them for that choice, and they got 35 good years out of that new projector. Adler’s Zeiss then found itself shipped to Viewlex’s Long Island warehouse space, where it sat for the next year or two.

If you’re one of the folks like me who try to stay up on planetarium history, you may know much of what I’ve already said, thanks to the incredible research compiled by Glenn Walsh, Brent Sullivan, and Gary Lazich and stored on Glenn’s planetarium history website. But it is at this point, when the projector left Jackson, that multiple stories develop, and the details on Glenn’s site begin to diverge and muddy. So let’s clear things up.

In 1980, Viewlex Audio-Visual Inc. went bankrupt. The freight and storage company that owned their warehouse began calling up Zeiss planetariums around the country, looking for someone willing to pay $10,000 to purchase Adler’s Zeiss. One of their calls was to Sam Mims, one of the two Planetarium Curators at the Louisiana Arts & Science Center in Baton Rouge. Realizing the danger of this historic artifact being scrapped, Sam got a few investors together including his father and his co-curator Wayne Coskrey, and agreed to purchase the projector. Sam visited New York, inspected the projector, and that, coupled with freight company records confirmed that this was the Adler’s Zeiss. After finalizing the sales contract, the projector was then shipped to a warehouse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

At this time, the Louisiana Arts & Science Center’s planetarium was also a Zeiss Model III, having originally been installed as a Model II in Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory. But Sam and Wayne didn’t have plans to use the Adler Zeiss for spare parts, they wanted to get it in the hands of someone who could put it to immediate use, or preserve its historical value. The Baton Rouge group ran ads in Astronomy, Sky & Telescope, and even the Planetarian looking for a buyer. This ad is from the 2nd issue of the 1983 Planetarian (Editor's Note: The last sentence of this paragraph refers to a visual included in Mr. Smail's presentation).

By 1987, they found a buyer. Don Greider, a solar engineer from Mechanicsburg, Ohio arranged to purchase Adler’s Zeiss with the goal of re-assembling it in his workshop. That was the last time anybody saw, or heard about the Adler Zeiss for over 20 years.

As some of you may recall, Adler found ourselves thrust into the political spotlight in late 2008, as a certain presidential candidate derogatorily accused another candidate of requesting a 3 million dollar earmark for Adler to buy an ‘overhead projector’. As a result, we found ourselves making numerous statements to the press about the differences between a classroom overhead projector and the latest in high-end planetarium projectors.

Don Greider happened to catch a piece on NPR about this, and gave Adler a call, offering his services in manufacturing new replacement parts for the now almost 40-year old, Zeiss Mark VI. Don also let slip that he had Adler’s original Zeiss crated up in his barn/warehouse. This led to a series of phone calls, and even an in-person visit over the next few years, but by the end of 2012, Don had dropped out of communication.

On February 17 of this year, I received a voicemail, forwarded from the museum’s main line. It was Don Greider’s son, Ken. He was making arrangements to clear out the barn, and wanted to know if we were interested in purchasing our Zeiss. On February 29, a small group from Adler drove out to the Greider farm, southwest of Mechanicsburg, Ohio in an attempt to verify that it was Adler’s Zeiss, and to inspect the condition of the parts. So what did we find?


We discovered a number of sealed crates containing portions of a Zeiss Model III Planetarium Projector, as well as a wide range of ancillary components that were part of a Zeiss Planetarium projection system. We also identified a series of shipping labels that traced out the projector's journey from Chicago to Mechanicsburg. In the packing material surrounding the North planet cage were pieces of the December 21, 1969 (coincidentally, date of the Winter Solstice) Chicago Tribune, further confirming that this was the Adler's long-lost Zeiss.

After a bit of back and forth, we settled on a price, and purchased our Zeiss back from the Greider family. We made a second trip to the farm in mid-June, to pack up as many of the small pieces as we could fit in our Adler van. The third and final trip was at the end of June; it was to oversee the removal of the final four crates. The crate that was stored outside was already starting to decay, so the 3,000+ pound center axle piece had to be removed and re-crated. While investigating options for doing so, we discovered a handwritten ‘Happy New Year’ message written on the inside of the crate, and signed by a number of the employees of the Zeiss Planetarium group in Oberkochen, Germany. We made a point to remove and save this piece of the crate for the Adler’s collection. After removing the center piece from the crate, our shipping contractor transported it to Columbus, Ohio where they re-crated it, and then shipped all four crates to the Adler’s off-site storage warehouse in Chicago.

We’ll soon be starting the process of determining how we approach restoration and public awareness of the projector, with the eventual goal to restore and reassemble the projector for display at the Adler Planetarium.

History of Adler Planetarium, Chicago *** Original Research Regarding Mystery of Disappearance of Adler Planetarium's Zeiss II / III Projector

Recovery: Adler Planetarium Zeiss II / III Planetarium Projector - Photos

International Planetarium Society (IPS) *** IPS History of the Planetarium Working Group

Prepared Remarks of Mike Smail, Director of Theaters and Digital Experience, Adler Planetarium, Chicago, During the First Webinar of the International Planetarium Society (IPS) History of the Planetarium Working Group Webinar: "History of Planetaria - What to Preserve, and How?" Thursday, 2020 September 3, 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. EDT / 14:00 to 15:30 UTC

Authored by Mike Smail, Director of Theaters and Digital Experience, Adler Planetarium, Chicago
Web Page Edited By Glenn A. Walsh *** Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
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History of Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh *** History of Adler Planetarium, Chicago
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2020 September

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