Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Historic Brashear Telescope Factory Time Capsule Found & Opened

This is a picture of the employees of John A. Brashear's mechanical department dated August 1894. On the back of this they are listed by name.
Photograph, from August of 1894, of the employees of the Mechanical Department of the John
A. Brashear Company, which produced telescopes and other precise scientific instruments. This
is one of the documents from a time capsule found in the now-demolished telescope factory
building built on Pittsburgh's North Side in 1886. (Image Source: Al Paslow)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Yesterday (March 24), Al Paslow, a member of the Antique Telescope Society, and members of a demolition crew opened a time capsule, a small brass box sealed with solder, that had been placed inside a cornerstone of the now-demolished Brashear Telescope Factory building on the North Side of Pittsburgh. The building, built in May of 1886 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, was originally the home of the John A. Brashear Company which had manufactured hundreds of telescopes and precise scientific instruments for observatories and scientific institutions throughout the world, in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.

Demolition of the historic building, which had been vacant for about 20 years, was necessitated after a wall of the building collapsed onto a nearby two-floor apartment building on March 16. The apartment building had to be evacuated, until city inspectors declared the building safe for occupancy. Jadell Minniefield Construction Company, of the Hazelwood section of Pittsburgh, demolished the Brashear Telescope Factory building under an emergency demolition order issued by Maura Kennedy, who heads the City of Pittsburgh's Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections.

While inspecting the remains of the nearly-demolished building yesterday, members of the demolition crew showed Al Paslow a time capsule that had been found near a building cornerstone a few days earlier. After calls to several societies and organizations went without result, it was decided that Al Paslow and three members of the demolition crew would open the time capsule and photo-document the contents.

As displayed at the beginning of this blog post, one photograph in the time capsule shows employees of the Mechanical Department of the John A. Brashear Company. The photograph is dated August of 1894, which is eight years after the construction of the Brashear Telescope Factory building. So, unlike most building time capsules, apparently this time capsule was installed after building completion, instead of during the laying of the building's cornerstone.

The time capsule also included:

  • a letter from John Brashear;
  • newspaper articles from 1891 to 1894 August 9;
  • photographs of John Brashear's family, including his mother and father;
  • photographs of prominent citizens of Pittsburgh and Allegheny City (Pittsburgh's "twin city" at that time, where the factory and Allegheny Observatory were actually located, Allegheny City was annexed to Pittsburgh in 1907 and became Pittsburgh's North Side);
  • a piece of glass with the inscription, “One of the first pieces of Optical glass Made in America”;
  • a lock of hair from John Brashear's wife, Phoebe, inside a small envelope so-labeled;
  • a letter from Worcester Reed Warner and Ambrose Swasey, owners of Cleveland telescope manufacturer Warner and Swasey Company, congratulating the Brashear Company on the completion of the new factory building (Brashear and Warner and Swasey collaborated on several projects);
  • a book labeled, “In Memoriam William Thaw.” complete with photographs (John Brashear's mentor who had paid for the land and construction of the factory building, William Thaw had died in 1889);
  • at the bottom of the time capsule box were plans and blueprints for the factory building.

In an electronic mail message distributed over the Antique Telescope Society's mail-group (copied over the History of Astronomy mail-group by John W. Briggs) yesterday, Al Paslow wrote, “Most of the contents of the Time Capsule are in remarkable shape; however some older photographs are faded but many look as good as the day they were left inside.” He has placed many photographs of the time capsule contents on his personal Internet web site (a link to this web site is at the end of this blog post).

The wall collapse had occurred on March 16, with demolition of the rest of the building beginning the next day. When the author of this SpaceWatchtower blog, Glenn A. Walsh, viewed the site on the evening of the Vernal Equinox (March 20, the official beginning of the season of Spring), the majority of the building had been brought-down, with the exception of small portions of the north and south walls. In his March 24 e-mail message, Al Paslow reported that the demolition was completed, and the site has been covered in straw, as of Tuesday afternoon (March 24).

Al Paslow did not mention the disposition of the time capsule and contents in his message. As, at the time of demolition, the Brashear Telescope Factory building was legally owned by the City of Pittsburgh, the time capsule and contents would be the legal property of the City.

Special Thanks: Al Paslow, John W. Briggs, Antique Telescope Society, History of Astronomy Mail-Group.

Photographs of Brashear Telescope Factory Building Time Capsule Contents, from the Al Paslow Astronomy Collection:
Link >>>!i=3951044359&k=RCqKLfF

Al Paslow Time Capsule Electronic Mail Message (2015 March 24):
Link >>>

More on John A. Brashear: Link >>>

More on the Allegheny Observatory: Link >>>

John Brashear - Links to Special Resources: Brashear Telescope Factory Building:
Link >>>

Related Blog Posts ---

Update: Historic Brashear Time Capsule (2015 April 9):

Link >>>

Dispute: Ownership of Brashear Time Capsule  (2015 March 26):

Link >>>


Historic Brashear Telescope Factory Wall Collapses (2015 March 18):

Link >>>


Brashear House & Factory: Nomination to National Register of Historic Places  (2012 Oct. 11): 

Link >>>

Historic Nomination: John Brashear House & Factory, Pittsburgh (2012 Sept. 13): 

Link >>>

Centennial: New Allegheny Observatory Dedication (2012 August 28):

 Link >>>

Pittsburgh's Allegheny Observatory: New History Film (2012 April 19) :
Link >>>


Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

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Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < >
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Also see: South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < >
Barnestormin: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, & More: < >
About the SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < >
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Twitter: < >
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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:
  < >


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  2. Brashear was indeed an extraordinary telescope-maker. His refractors are legendary as they usually had the flint element in front of the crown one.

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