This evening (October 24) marks the 70th anniversary of one of the pioneers of
planetarium and science center education: Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium
and Institute of Popular Science. The dedication ceremony took place at 8:30
p.m. (EST) on Tuesday, 1939 October 24.
It was the first publicly-owned building in the City, and possibly the State, to
be constructed with air-conditioning, absolutely necessary since none of the
public areas had windows. The modest, 40,000 square-foot building on three
floors and a lower level, included 15,000 square feet in five exhibit galleries
(the Institute of Popular Science), a Planetarium Theater (Theater of the
Stars), 250-seat Lecture Hall (Little Science Theater), 800-volume Science
Library/Board Room, and a Gift Counter.
An astronomical observatory was usable on the third floor, with a 4-inch Zeiss
Terrestrial Refractor Telescope. Although an astronomical telescope had been
ordered, the onset of World War II prohibited return and replacement of the
terrestrial telescope. The Observatory's primary telescope, a 10-inch
Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope, was completed in 1941.
The evening dedication ceremony, attended by many scientists, public officials,
and civic leaders, was aired on three Pittsburgh radio stations (KQV, KDKA, and
WWSW) either live or on-delay. The ceremony occured in Buhl Planetarium's
Theater of the Stars, with nearly 500 seats under a 65-foot diameter,
In the Theater of the Stars, the dignitaries saw the first planetarium
projector, a Zeiss Mark II (last such projector produced before World War II, as
well as the last Zeiss II ever built), to be mounted on an elevator. This
custom-built Westinghouse worm-gear elevator allowed the projector to be lowered
below floor level, into the Zeiss Pit, so the theater could be used for other
purposes. A small stage also formed while the projector was in the Zeiss Pit.
The Theater of the Stars also unveiled the first permanent theatrical stage in a
planetarium theater, which was separate from the small stage over the Zeiss Pit.
Over the years, this was used for many different types of productions, as well
as playing an important role in the annual "Star of Bethlehem" Christmas sky
The first planetarium show was titled, "Stars Over Pittsburgh."
The next day, Buhl Planetarium opened to the public. Admission to the Institute
of Popular Science exhibit galleries was free-of-charge for the first year,
while there was a small admission charge for the planetarium show.
For a one-dollar, refundable, deposit fee, hearing-impaired visitors could use a
headset to hear the planetarium show. Both air-conduction and bone-conduction
headsets were available, which plugged into special receptacles along one
section of the planetarium theater wall. This was the first sound-system in a
planetarium theater (and, perhaps, in any theater) specially designed for the
The Buhl Planetarium building closed as a public museum on 1991 August 31; a
mile away on the north bank of the Ohio River, The Carnegie Science Center
opened on 1991 October 5. The Buhl Planetarium building continued to host
Science Center science and computer classes until February of 1994, when the
building was completely closed.
The Carnegie Science Center attempted to sell the historic Zeiss II Planetarium
Projector and 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope, in 1995, to a college
south of Dallas, which only intended to display the equipment as antique
artifacts. After petitioning for a special public hearing before Pittsburgh City
Council, a grass-roots public movement stopped this sale.
There were several plans, over the years, for reuse of the Buhl Planetarium
building. Until 2004, all had failed for financial and/or political reasons.
In November of 2004, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh (located across the
street in the Old Allegheny Post Office) expanded their operation into the Buhl
Planetarium building. However, Children's Museum officials insisted that most of
the Planetarium artifacts, except for the Foucault Pendulum and Grand Clock, be
removed from the building and placed in storage.
The Carnegie Science Center has announced plans to reassemble the Zeiss II
Projector as a Science Center exhibit, by late 2010. There has been no word on
the reuse of other dismantled artifacts.
Much more of Buhl Planetarium's history can be learned at this web site:
Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < http://friendsofthezeiss.org
Electronic Mail - < siderostat1989@...
SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS, ASTRONOMICAL CALENDAR:
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
* Public Transit: