Sunday, January 29, 2012

Former Buhl Science Center President Dies

Joshua Whetzel Jr

Joshua C. Whetzel, Jr., a chemist who, from 1982 to 1991 was President and Chairman of the Buhl Science Center (updated name for Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science), died on 2012 January 24 at the age of 90.

He was the long-time Chairman of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. In that capacity in 1975, he spearheaded development of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail, conversion of the railroad rights-of-way of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad and other regional railroads into a walking, hiking, and biking trail between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Maryland. In Cumberland the "GAP" Trail connects with the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Tow-Path Trail between Cumberland and Washington, DC; at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, this trail connects with the north-south Appalachian Trail.

While some people were skeptical whether the GAP Trail would be successful, Mr. Whetzel was sure it would become a popular trail. Mr. Whetzel was right. As of 2019, after the GAP Trail was completed, it is now visited by people from all 50 states and throughout the world every year!

In the early 1980s, while he was still Chairman of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, he was asked to take charge of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science and help update the Institute's exhibits and image. The name change to Buhl Science Center, in February of 1982, was the beginning of several changes.

A Computer Learning Lab opened in June of 1983, in the Octagon Gallery, where more than 20 Apple IIe computers replaced Buhl's 4 Texas Instruments computers. At the entrance to the Computer Lab was an early touch-screen computer called "Pixel Paint Pots," which the public could use to "paint" different color designs on the screen.

Robotics was also a new program at Buhl Science Center, which included the display of a large industrial robot which etched plastic name tags for visitors' key rings. Students were also taught to build small robots. And, there was a special robot weekend which filled the Buhl Planetarium building with visitors.

Other new exhibits included multi-module displays on topics such as optics and perception ("Image/Imagination"), acoustics ("Sounds Sensational"), and motion ("The Right Moves"). Physics demonstrations for the public were given in a new Discovery Lab.

A new exhibit, of particular interest to Joshua Whetzel, was an Embryology exhibit titled, "The BioCorner," where chicks, and occasionally ducklings, were hatched in front of the public's eyes every weekend. Mr. Whetzel had seen a similar exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and decided Buhl Science Center should also have such an exhibit. Glenn A. Walsh was asked to create such an exhibit, and served as Curator of the exhibit from May of 1983 through May of 1987. After the exhibit opened, it quickly became one of the most popular exhibits in the building, particularly for young children. More info on the BioCorner Embryology Exhibit:

Joshua Whetzel took a keen interest in special events planned for the return of Halley's Comet in 1985-1986, including a special planetarium show and special nights for public telescope viewing of the comet in Buhl Planetarium's Astronomical Observatory. He was also involved in special events for the celebration of Buhl Planetarium's 50th anniversary in 1989.

Joshua Whetzel spearheaded the drive to increase the size of the Science Center. When expansion at the Buhl Planetarium site in Allegheny Center seemed too small, he accepted the City of Pittsburgh's invitation to build a new science center building on the north bank of the Ohio River. After successfully seeking a merger between Buhl Planetarium and Carnegie Institute in 1987, the new Carnegie Science Center opened in 1991. The original Buhl Planetarium building is now used by the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

Joshua Whetzel also served in several other Pittsburgh area organizations including the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh, the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh, and he served on the Board of Directors of Dollar Savings Bank until April of 1996 (elected to the Dollar Bank Board of Directors 1972 February 17; retired from the Board 1996 April 18).

Here are links to obituaries for Joshua Whetzel, published in Pittsburgh's two morning newspapers --

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Pittsburgh Tribuen-Review:

Related Blog Post ---

Laserium: 40th Anniversary  (2013 Nov. 19) ---

Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh and his family visited Buhl Planetarium on 1984 May 25 to see Laserium. The Governor had been invited that evening by Buhl Science Center President Joshua C. Whetzel, Jr., who was lobbying for state funding for construction of a new science center building on the North Shore of the Ohio River, across from Downtown Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle. 

 Link >>>  


Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < >
Electronic Mail - < >
  < >
Twitter: < >
Facebook: < >
Blog: < >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < >
* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < >
* Public Transit:
  < >

1 comment: