Obituary of John A. Brashear






Obituary article from the archives

of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Published April 8, 1920

Messages of condolence from prominent men in every part of the country at the passing of Dr. John A. Brashear today poured into the home at 1951 Perrysville Ave. where the scientist died at 7:10 p.m. yesterday. The words of regret were a fitting tribute to the man who won the title of "most eminent citizen" in his state while remaining "Uncle John" to thousands in the city where he lived and achieved fame. Flags on city school buildings were at half mast today.

Six hours before death came "Uncle John" went to sleep. Death followed an illness of six months, superinduced by an attack of ptomaine poisoning. Two weeks ago congestion of the lungs developed. He was aged 79.


Following Dr. Brashear's expressed wish that public funeral services will be held in a hall or auditorium large enough to hold all who care to attend, services will be held in Northside Carnegie music hall Sunday. Rev. Dr. A.J. Bonsall, pastor of Sandusky St. Baptist church, will preach the sermon, and Judge Buffington will speak. It was the wish of Dr. Brashear that both have a part in the service.

The life ideal of the man whose benevolence and acts of kindness increased as he attained eminence in the scientific world reveled in his last message to his friends, made public by Miss Martha C. Hoyt, secretary of Henry C. Frick educational commission, Dr. Brashear's closest companion in recent years.

"As my last message to all my dear friends,'' he said, "especially to those who have helped me bear the burden of others, who by their kindly words of advice or by monetary assistance, have sent a little sunshine into the dark places of the earth, to those who have trusted me as a brother and made possible the Henry C. Frick educational commission, I leave my tribute of gratitude."


Pittsburg will long remember "Uncle John's" seventy-fifth birthday anniversary, in which the entire city took part, Nov. 22, 1916, and two days before he sailed for Japan to make scientific studies, the city again honored him. Thousands clasped hands as they stood in the Frick building lobby.

His birthday celebration in 1916 was nation-wide. Postcards, letters, telegrams and gifts poured into the Brashear home.

An endowment fund of $250,000 to be used for the advancement of public schools was placed in the astronomer's hands by a friend in 1911. As a result, nearly 2,000 teachers were sent away for rest and study. A fund of $50,000 to provide for the continuance, after Dr. Brashear's death, of his teachings along scientific lines was raised coincident with the celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of his birth.


John Alfred Brashear was born in Brownsville, Fayette County, Nov. 24, 1840, the son of B.B. and Julia B. Brashear. He had only a common school education. When a boy he apprenticed himself to a machinist and at the age of 20 had mastered the trade. He came to Pittsburg in 1861 and obtained employment as a wheelwright. For the next 20 years he was connected with rolling mill work, in the meantime enlarging upon his elementary knowledge of astronomy.

Soon after he came to Pittsburg, Dr. Brashear was married to Miss Phoebe Stewart and the young couple planned ways and means for him to continue his study of astronomy. The young scientist built with his own hands a frame home at 3 Holt st. Often, in the evening after his mill labors were over, Mrs. Brashear held a lantern, giving light to her husband while he sawed and hammered on their house.


He lacked the means to buy a telescope, so he set to work in the little shop in the rear of his home to construct one. It was completed in 1874, after more than 10 years of labor. Since 1880 he had devoted his time to experiments and the manufacture of astronomical and scientific instruments.

From 1898 to 1900, Dr. Brashear was director of Allegheny observatory, and he was for several years acting chancellor of the Western University of Pennsylvania, now the University of Pittsburg.

In 1915, Governor Brumbaugh named him "the most eminent citizen of Pennsylvania."

He is survived by a daughter, Mrs. James B. McDowell; two brothers, George and Frank Brashear; a sister, Mrs. William Sheets, and two great-grandchildren. His wife died several years ago.


Honorary pallbearers will be Charles M. Schwab, Frank Nicola, John Walker, Dr. A.A. Hamerschlag, Gen. Richard Hoxie, Ambrose Swasey, Charles Taylor, W.H.H. Hilliard, Andrew Mellon, William McConway, John W. Beatty, Robert Franks, Taylor Allderdice, Karl Reinholt, S.H. Church, W.H. Naughton, and two members of the Henry C. Frick educational commission.

Active pallbears will be James B. McDowell, Frank and George Brashear, Fred Gaston, Frank Grey, Fred Hageman, John Paden and Ellis Paulsen.

The body will be cremated and the ashes placed beside those of his wife in the cupola under Keeler's dome in Allegheny observatory. A simple inscription, his name and the date of his death, will be chiseled into a marble slab above the urn.

Work at Carnegie Institute of Technology was suspended for part of today. A student guard of honor will be placed over the body of Dr. Brashear upon its arrival at Memorial hall at 11 a.m. Sunday. The body will lie in state from 12 to 3.

The flag at Carnegie institute was at half mast today. Dr. Brashear was one of the original members of the board of trustees and took an active part in the development of the institution.

Note -- Every effort was made to capture the flavor of the original newspaper article, therefore some of the spelling, capitalization and punctuation may see inaccurate.

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