Who is John A. Brashear?


Dr. John Alfred Brashear "came into this old, round world" Nov. 24, 1840, in Brownsville, Fayette, County, Pa., southeast of Pittsburgh. He later moved to the Steel City, and despite the smoky skies so prevalent in his day, Brashear's love of the night sky never waned.

Brashear built his first telescope in his South Side home in the early 1870s (and immediately opened his doors to neighbors, friends and strangers), though his optical prowess is apparent even today -- many of the telescopes he made still are in use around the world. Moreover, the one-time John Brashear Co. has evolved to become the Contraves Corp., an internationally known maker of superb optics. In its underground facility near Wampum, Pa., Contraves is working on the completion of the 8-meter mirror for the Subaru Telescope, to be installed in Hawaii.

Brashear died April, 1920. His remains and those of his wife Phoebe are interned in the crypt beneath the Keeler Memorial Reflecting Telescope at Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh's Riverview Park. Brashear, a one-time director of Allegheny Observatory, is the man most responsible for its construction. A testament to his dedication to astronomy -- and to his love for his wife, who preceded him in death -- can be seen on a plaque in the observatory's crypt.

It reads: "We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."

More than seven decades after his death, Brashear's spirit lives on with the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh -- the AAAP in 1993 unanimously approved the naming of Brashear as an honorary member, posthumously. It is the first time in the history of the AAAP, organized in 1929, a person was bestowed honorary membership after his death.

Additionally, the AAAP, in a 1994 vote, officially named its historic telescope THE BRASHEAR 11-INCH REFRACTOR in honor of Uncle John. Of all the telescope made by his hands, this is the only one of his telescopes to solely bear his name.

To learn more about John A. Brashear, the AAAP invites you to attend a star party at Wagman Observatory, or visit the Brashear Association on Sarah Street in Pittsburgh's South Side, where a small museum holds some of Brashear's instruments.

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