1933 photograph of the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector used from
1930 to 1969 at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. This projector was
replaced by a Zeiss VI in January of 1970.
(Image Sources: Adler Planetarium and Friends of the Zeiss)
By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower
A 50-year mystery has been solved!
America's oldest planetarium projector, the Zeiss II / III
Planetarium Projector operated at Chicago's Adler Planetarium from
1930 to 1969, has been found and recovered.
The author of this blog-post, Glenn A.
Walsh, is proud to have assisted in the resolution of this mystery.
On 1930 May 12, Adler Planetarium
opened in Chicago as the first major planetarium in the Western
Hemisphere, a Zeiss Mark II from the Carl Zeiss Optical Works in
Jena, Germany. Before World War II, four more Zeiss II Planetarium
Projectors would find their way to America:
Philadelphia: Fels Planetarium,
Franklin Institute (1933)
Los Angeles: Griffith Observatory
New York City: Hayden Planetarium,
American Museum of Natural History (1935)
Pittsburgh: Buhl Planetarium &
Institute of Popular Science (1939)
The modern mechanical, projection
planetarium was developed in Germany, with the first public showing
on 1923 October 21 at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. This was the
Zeiss Mark I, designed by the Carl Zeiss Optical Works.
Adler Planetarium operated their Zeiss
II Planetarium Projector from 1930 until 1961. Then, this
projector was upgraded from a Zeiss II to a Zeiss III.
According to Mike Smail, Director of
Theaters and Digital Experience at Adler Planetarium, “In 1961,
Adler upgraded their projector, adding the two collars or ruffs at
the base of each starball that held individual projectors for the 42
brightest stars, an upgraded Moon projector, and new chromium-coated,
photo-engraved star plates (replacing the original hand-punched
copper plates).” Mr. Smail's statement was made during his
presentation, “There and Back Again: 90 Years of Adler's Zeiss Mark
II”, during the “History of Planetaria – What to Preserve and
How” webinar, sponsored by the International Planetarium Society
(IPS) History of the Planetarium Working Group on Thursday Morning,
2020 September 3.
It should be noted that all Zeiss III
projectors are upgraded Zeiss II projectors. The Zeiss IV Planetarium
Projector was the first all-new projector produced by Carl Zeiss,
following World War II.
The Zeiss II / III last operated at Adler Planetarium on 1969 December 31. It, then, took two weeks to dismantle the Zeiss II / III, to prepare to be sent to Jackson, Mississippi. It took a couple more weeks to install the new Zeiss VI Planetarium Projector before it began presenting shows to the general public.
The Zeiss II / III was sent to
Jackson, Mississippi for a yet-to-be built, new planetarium theater.
So, it appeared that
this historic projector would get a new life educating the citizens
of Mississippi, as the citizens of nearby Baton Rouge, Louisiana were
being educated by another historic Zeiss II / III projector used
originally by the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.
the Russell C. Davis Planetarium in Downtown Jackson opened in 1978,
but with a different projector: the Minolta S-IV Planetarium
Projector. This was the beginning, of what would be, a 50-year
mystery regarding the fate of Adler Planetarium's historic Zeiss II /
III Planetarium Projector.
Russell C. Davis Planetarium had determined that the cost of
rehabilitating Adler's 1930 projector was significantly more than the
cost of a brand new projector from a different vendor. So, once
Adler's historic Zeiss II / III Planetarium Projector left
Mississippi, it took a convoluted route ending-up in a barn in
central Ohio some years later. But for most of the 50 years, most
people had no idea where the projector was located; the Ohio
purchaser kept a low-profile and did very little with the projector.
20 years ago, planetarium historians Glenn A. Walsh and Brent
Sullivan, with assistance from Gary Lazich, started looking for
Adler's historic Zeiss II / III Planetarium Projector. Through
research, including telephone and electronic mail interviews with
people who had involvement with the Adler Zeiss Projector, a
narrative started to be assembled showing what may have happened to
the projector, although there were conflicting stories that were
difficult to reconcile. Mr. Walsh compiled all of the stories on his
History of Adler Planetarium Internet web-site, and he asked web-site
readers to contact him if they had additional information. After
April of 2008, no further information was received.
Smail, during his September 3 presentation, announced that the Adler
Planetarium had found and recovered the historic Zeiss II / III
Planetarium Projector. He, then, provided a summary of what had
happened to the projector over these 50 years (1970 to 2020).
Smail explained: “As previously mentioned, the Davis
Planetarium opened in 1978, but with a Minolta S-IV projector at its
core. Why not the Zeiss? When the team in Jackson investigated the
actual costs of re-constructing and updating the Zeiss, they found it
would be upwards of $230,000. And when they reached out to
planetarium manufacturers for bid quotes, they received an offer from
Viewlex (then Minolta’s US Distributor) that was about $100,000
less than Zeiss repair costs. Viewlex also offered Jackson $30,000 in
trade-in for the Adler’s Zeiss. I can’t say I blame them for that
choice, and they got 35 good years out of that new projector. Adler’s
Zeiss then found itself shipped to Viewlex’s Long Island warehouse
space, where it sat for the next year or two.
“In 1980, Viewlex Audio-Visual Inc.
went bankrupt. The freight and storage company that owned their
warehouse began calling up Zeiss planetariums around the country,
looking for someone willing to pay $10,000 to purchase Adler’s
Zeiss. One of their calls was to Sam Mims, one of the two Planetarium
Curators at the Louisiana Arts and Science Center in Baton Rouge.
Realizing the danger of this historic artifact being scrapped, Sam
got a few investors together including his father and his co-curator
Wayne Coskrey, and agreed to purchase the projector. Sam visited New
York, inspected the projector, and that, coupled with freight company
records confirmed that this was the Adler’s Zeiss. After finalizing
the sales contract, the projector was then shipped to a warehouse in
Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“At this time, the
Louisiana Arts and Science Center's planetarium was also a Zeiss
Model III, having originally been installed as a Model II in Los
Angeles’ Griffith Observatory. But Sam and Wayne didn’t have
plans to use the Adler Zeiss for spare parts, they wanted to get it
in the hands of someone who could put it to immediate use, or
preserve its historical value. The Baton Rouge group ran ads in
& Telescope, and even the Planetarian
(IPS quarterly journal) magazines looking for a buyer.
“By 1987, they found a buyer. Don
Greider, a solar engineer from Mechanicsburg, Ohio arranged to
purchase Adler’s Zeiss with the goal of re-assembling it in his
workshop. That was the last time anybody saw, or heard about the
Adler Zeiss for over 20 years.”
When Adler Planetarium inadvertently
made national headlines in 2008, when a Presidential candidate
confused funding a new planetarium projector for an overhead
projector, Don Greider heard about the controversy on National Public
Radio (NPR). He called Adler Planetarium, offering to help provide
replacement parts for Adler's Zeiss VI projector, which was nearly 40
years old. He also mentioned that he had, in storage, Adler's
original Zeiss II / III projector.
Mr. Smail continued, “This led to
a series of phone calls, and even an in-person visit over the next
few years, but by the end of 2012, Don had dropped out of
“On February 17 of this year
(2020), I received a voicemail, forwarded from the museum’s main
line. It was Don Greider’s son, Ken. He was making arrangements to
clear out the barn, and wanted to know if we were interested in
purchasing our Zeiss. On February 29, a small group from Adler drove
out to the Greider farm, southwest of Mechanicsburg, Ohio in an
attempt to verify that it was Adler’s Zeiss, and to inspect the
condition of the parts. So what did we find?
"We discovered a number of sealed crates containing portions of a Zeiss Model III Planetarium Projector, as well as a wide range of ancillary components that were part of a Zeiss Planetarium projection system. We also identified a series of shipping labels that traced out the projector's journey from Chicago to Mechanicsburg. In the packing material surrounding the North planet cage were pieces of the December 21, 1969 (coincidentally, date of the Winter Solstice) Chicago Tribune, further confirming that this was the Adler's long-lost Zeiss.
“After a bit of back and forth, we
settled on a price, and purchased our Zeiss back from the Greider
family. We made a second trip to the farm in mid-June, to pack up as
many of the small pieces as we could fit in our Adler van. The third
and final trip was at the end of June; it was to oversee the removal
of the final four crates.” All of the crates were then shipped, by
truck, to Adler’s off-site storage warehouse in Chicago.
Mr. Smail concluded his presentation
saying, “We’ll soon be starting the process of determining how we
approach restoration and public awareness of the projector, with the
eventual goal to restore and reassemble the projector for display at
the Adler Planetarium.”
During his prepared remarks, Mr. Smail also
said, “If you’re one of the folks like me who try to stay up on
planetarium history, you may know much of what I’ve already said,
thanks to the incredible research compiled by Glenn Walsh, Brent
Sullivan, and Gary Lazich and stored on Glenn's planetarium history
the 1980s and early 1990s, Mr. Walsh had been a lecturer in The Buhl
Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science
Center, Pittsburgh's science and technology museum from 1939 to
1991), using Buhl's historic Zeiss II Planetarium Projector. He was
also Astronomical Observatory Coordinator, in charge of Buhl's
astronomical observatory using the historic 10-inch Siderostat-type
Sullivan is a planetarium collector and restorer. He has also been
Director of Acquisitions and Restorations of the private Planetarium
Projector & Space Museum in Big Bear Lake, California.
Lazich was Manager of the Russell C. Davis Planetarium in Jackson,
1994, Mr. Walsh started a grass-roots effort to prevent an
Adler-type mystery from happening to another historic Zeiss
Projector: the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector which had operated in
Pittsburgh's Buhl Planetarium from 1939 to 1994. This is the only
Zeiss II Planetarium Projector which had never had any major
modifications from its 1939 installation.
after Adler Planetarium opened in 1930, several members of the
Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP – which had
been established the previous year) visited Chicago to see this new
way of explaining astronomy to the general public. As soon as they
returned home, they immediately started lobbying to build a
planetarium in Pittsburgh.
1935, the Buhl Foundation (then, the nation's 13th largest
philanthropic foundation) announced that they would build a
planetarium in memory of Henry Buhl, Jr., who had owned one of
Pittsburgh's major department stores, Boggs and Buhl. The Buhl
Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science opened in 1939. AAAP
co-founder Leo Scanlon (who, in November of 1930, had constructed the
world's first all-aluminum astronomical observatory dome) was one of
the first two Buhl Planetarium lecturers.
1995, Mr. Walsh petitioned Pittsburgh City Council for a special public hearing
on the proposed sale of the historic Zeiss II Planetarium Projector,
which is legally owned by the City of Pittsburgh. At the conclusion
of the 1995 May 18 public hearing, City Council decided the historic
instrument should remain in Pittsburgh. Today, Buhl Planetarium's
historic Zeiss II Planetarium Projector is on public display in the
first-floor Atrium Gallery of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center
(located one mile southwest of the original Buhl Planetarium
building, on the North Shore of the Ohio River).
Mike Smail, Director of Theaters & Digital Experience, Adler Planetarium, Chicago
Internet Links to Additional Information ---
History of Adler Planetarium: Link >>> http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com/
Original Research Regarding Mystery of Disappearance of Adler Planetarium's Zeiss II / III:
Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/adler/mystery.html
Webinar Remarks of Mike Smail: "There and Back Again: 90 Years of Adler's Zeiss Mark II":
Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/adler/09032020_Walsh_text.html
Recovery: Adler Zeiss II / III Planetarium Projector -- Photos:
Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/adler/pix/zeissiii/recovery.html
International Planetarium Society (IPS): Link >>> https://www.ips-planetarium.org/
IPS History of the Planetarium Working Group:
Link >>> https://www.ips-planetarium.org/page/historywg
Related Blog Posts ---
"75th Anniversary of America's 5th Major Planetarium." Fri., 2014 Oct. 24.
"100 Years Ago: Planetarium Concept Born." Mon., 2014 Feb. 24.
Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
Friday, 2020 September 18.
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Astronomical Observatory Coordinator & Planetarium Lecturer,
original Buhl Planetarium & Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center),
Pittsburgh's science & technology museum from 1939 to 1991.
Formerly Trustee, Andrew Carnegie
Free Library and Music Hall, Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie,
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries: