The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania U.S.A.
Quick History and
Current Use of Building by Children's Museum

Authored By Glenn A. Walsh *** Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
Electronic Mail: < quickhistory@planetarium.cc > *** Internet Web Site Cover Page: < http://www.planetarium.cc >
2006 March

Photo
of Buhl Planetarium in Allegheny 
Square, Pittsburgh

Beginnings

Facilities, Programs,
and Exhibits

Carnegie Science Center

Children's Museum
of Pittsburgh

Directions to
Buhl Planetarium

Master Index

NEWS: Planetarium,
Astronomy, Space

Buhl Planetarium
"Firsts" & World Records

Beginnings

The modern-day optical/mechanical planetarium projector was first invented in Germany in August of 1923. The Zeiss I Planetarium Projector was first used at the Zeiss Optical Works in Jena, Germany, before being permanently installed at the Deutsches Museum in Munich in May of 1925.

The first Zeiss planetarium projector installation in the Americas occurred on 1930 May 12 in the new Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum (now known as the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum) in Chicago. Five members of the recently formed (1929 June 9) Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP) drove to Chicago to learn about this new astronomical teaching tool. AAAP co-founder Leo J. Scanlon and other members prepared a glowing report, on the planetarium's great educational potential, for the Academy of Science and Art of Pittsburgh (which had been formed decades earlier by Henry Thaw and John A. Brashear, among others). The report recommended that funds be sought for the construction of a planetarium in Pittsburgh.

With the onset of the Great Depression, funds were scarce for such an endeavor. However, in 1935, Pittsburgh's Buhl Foundation (then the 13th largest charitable foundation in the United States) announced that it would fund such an institution (the final construction cost: $1.07 million), in the memory of Henry Buhl, Jr., who had been the co-owner of the very successful Boggs and Buhl Department Store on Pittsburgh's North Side. On 1937 July 20, the City of Pittsburgh leased property (one block north of the Boggs and Buhl Department Store), which was then occupied by the old Allegheny City Hall (no longer needed, since the City of Pittsburgh had annexed the City of Allegheny in December of 1907) to the Buhl Foundation for the construction of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science; the lease was for 99 years, at a cost of one dollar per year.

With a gala event on the Tuesday evening of October 24, 1939 at 8:30 p.m., The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science was dedicated. On that date, the Buhl Foundation also gifted and conveyed the entire facility to the City of Pittsburgh, but agreed to fund any unfunded deficits of the institution for at least six years; the Buhl Foundation actually operated the museum for more than 42 years.

Facilities, Programs, and Exhibits of Buhl Planetarium

Buhl Planetarium was built as a 1939 state-of-the-art institution. It was the first publicly-owned building in the City, and possibly the State, to be constructed with air-conditioning, absolutely necessary since none of the public areas had windows.

Constructed in the heart of Buhl Planetarium was the 65-foot diameter, 425-seat Theater of the Stars (one of the largest planetarium theaters in the country) including the Zeiss Mark II Planetarium Projector then the fifth such projector in the Americas. Today, it is the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world ! The Zeiss II Projector was the first planetarium projector mounted on an elevator, custom-built by Pittsburgh's Westinghouse Electric Company, to facilitate other uses for the Theater of the Stars.

When the projector was lowered completely below floor level into the Zeiss Projector Pit, a small stage was created above the projector in the Theater. However, a second, larger stage was included on the north side of the Theater of the Stars, the first permanenty theatrical stage in a planetarium (and, using electric motors, this stage actually expanded into the Theater of the Stars, when needed!). The Theater of the Stars was also the first planetarium theater (and, perhaps, the first theater !) to install a sound system specifically for the hearing-impaired; headsets used with this sound system were available for either air-conduction or bone-conduction of sound. With the start of World War II, Buhl Planetarium's Theater of the Stars was used to train military aviators in celestial navigation techniques.

An Astronomical Observatory was constructed for public use on the building's third floor, including two outdoor "wings" for the use of portable telescopes. The primary instrument for the Observatory, the rather unique 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope, was not completed until 1941 November 19, with a dedication which included a keynote address by well-known twentieth century Astronomer Harlow Shapley (then, Director of the Harvard College Observatory).

The second largest Siderostat Telescope in use, and the only specifically designed for public use, this telescope allowed the public to view celestial objects in the warm Observing Room while the telescope remained in the often cold Telescope Room. As the telescope was permanently mounted on a concrete base, there was also no fear of a child accidentally bumping the telescope during an observing session.

Historic Anecdote: On the same evening of the Observatory dedication, Buhl started a new Planetarium Sky Show and opened a new gallery exhibit. The Sky Show, regarding Celestial Navigation, was titled "Bombers by Starlight." The new exhibit, in Buhl's lower-level Octagon Gallery(which encircles the planetarium projector pit, below the planetarium theater) was titled "Can America Be Bombed?" This exhibit opened two and one-half weeks before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii!

Other facilities built as part of the Buhl Planetarium building included a 250-seat Lecture Hall (a.k.a. Little Science Theater), beautiful wood-paneled 800-volume Library, beautiful brass and marble Pendulum Pit with a Foucault Pendulum, Amateur Astronomers' Workshop, and a Club Room along with classrooms. In the beginning, Buhl Planetarium had several "talking" exhibits, including the Foucault Pendulum (the original speaker, the last remnant of these talking exhibits, can still be seen in the Pendulum Pit). At the push of a button, a visitor could activate a record turntable, remotely located in a special sound room (across the hallway from the Planetarium Sound Room), which would provide an audio explanation of the exhibit.

In addition to these specialized facilities, the Buhl Planetarium building has five exhibit galleries, two on the first floor and three on the lower level. The Main Gallery or Great Hall on the first floor includes the Foucault Pendulum, as well as access to the Theater of the Stars and the Little Science Theater. In later years, the Great Hall would include the large Mercator's Projection Map of the World, Rand McNally Geo-Physcical Relief Globe, Eva Mirabal's mural of World War II parachutists later replaced by a mural of two 1960s satellites, steel industry mural from the U.S. Steel pavillion at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City later painted over with The Rise of Steel Technology by Washington County artist Nat H. Youngblood, Minerals and Fossils in Our Region Exhibit produced by the Mineral and Lapidary Society of Pittsburgh, BioCorner Embryology Exhibit (chicks, and occasionally ducklings, hatched each weekend), and of course the one-million volt Oudin-Type Tesla Coil.

The second gallery on the first floor was originally known as the Hall of Astronomy, but later was named the Hall of the Universe. The Hall of the Universe included a couple dozen classic push-button exhibits in a dark exhibit hall lit only by black-lights (ultraviolet lights). Several large astronomical murals were hung in the Hall of the Universe.

Three large fragments of the large meteorite that impacted the Barringer Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona were displayed in a special display case at the entrance to the Hall of the Universe. In the mid-1980s, the largest of these fragments (fifth largest meteorite fragment from the crater) was displayed on a special movable pedestal, so people could touch it. As this fragment weighs 746 pounds (340 kilograms), there was no concern that a visitor could walk-off with it, although many people did try to move it (with little success), particularly teenagers who patronized the evening rock-and-roll music laser-light concerts shown in Buhl Planetarium's Theater of the Stars. However, as the other two fragments did not weigh as much, and could possibly have been stolen, they were placed in storage.

Two Life Sciences programs were performed in the Little Science Theater. Originally, a special instrument called an epideoscope projected life in a drop of water onto the Lecture Hall screen in a program called the Micro Zoo. Later, Transpara the Talking Glass Lady used a life-size transparent plastic model of a woman to show the organs of the body and how they worked, during a fifteen-minute, pre-recorded presentation; one presentation was for children and another for adults.

The three exhibit galleries on Buhl Planetarium's lower level, included the Mezzanine, Bowdish Gallery (originally called South Gallery), and the Octagon Gallery. For many years, the Mezzanine was home to the Bell Telephone Exhibit, which included such popular exhibits as the Cybernetic Tic-Tac-Toe (which used mechanical relays for the "computer" to play the game with the visitor) and the Picture Phone booths (where two visitors could talk to each other via real-time, black-and-white, video telephones).

The Mezzanine also included a bicycle, sponsored by Duquesne Light Company, where a visitor could pedel the bicycle to see how much electricity they could generate, displayed by how high a wattage light bulb would light-up. Along the north wall of the Mezzanine, generally between the men's and women's rest rooms (the rest rooms were built with walls of beautiful Sienna Marble) hung eight astronomical paintings by Pennsylvania artist and architect Daniel Owen Stephens. A photograph of one of thsse paintings, "The Old Astronomer," has been published in Astronomy textbooks, as well as in a 1961 black-and-white filmstrip for schools called "The Race for Space." A portait of Nicholas Copernicus was commissioned by the Polish Arts League of Pittsburgh.

Bowdish Gallery, which was the long-time home of the Miniature Railroad and Village, was named in honor of the Miniature Railroad's creator, Charles Bowdish, at a special dedication ceremony in November of 1983. For many years, the gallery was also used during the annual Pittsburgh Regional School Science and Engineering Fair (as was every gallery in the building) to display children's Science projects. However, by the 1980s, it was decided not to go to all of the trouble to completely tear-down, and then rebuild, the Miniature Railroad platform just for the Science Fair exhibition.

The Octagon Gallery was primarily used as a traveling exhibits gallery for many years. In June of 1983, the Computer Learning Lab (which replaced a smaller area with five Texas Instruments educational computers) was constructed in the east portion of the gallery, with more than a dozen Apple IIe personal computers, set-up in an early "LAN" network by Buhl Planetarium computer technician and planetarium lecturer John Fairman. Just outside of the Computer Lab, an early touch-screen computer called "Pixel Paint Pots" allowed the public to use their fingers to make colorful images on the computer screen. Later on, the west portion of the gallery was home to "The Right Moves," an exhibit on motion which included a popular pitching cage where the speed of a visitor pitching a baseball could be measured by a radar gun. Also, the front of the gallery included a recycling exhibit, sponsored by the ALCOA Corporation. In the center of the Octagon Gallery (named for the eight sides of the hall), away from public view, is the Zeiss Projector Pit where the planetarium projector is stored when not in use in the Theater of the Stars.

Other Buhl Planetarium programs included the static electricity presentation including the Van de Graaff electrostatic generator; annual Pittsburgh Regional School Science and Engineering Fair, the third oldest Science Fair in the United States (the oldest regional Science Fair in a major metropolitan area; the two older fairs are state-wide fairs); the annual Tropical Fish Show sponsored by the Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society (at the time, the longest such collaboration between a museum and a fish enthusiasts club); and the annual Summer "Solstice Day" event which included several special activities.

The Carnegie Science Center

In the mid-1980s, serious consideration was given to expansion of Buhl Planetarium or construction of an entire new Science Center building. Partly due to the fact that space to expand the original building was limited, it was finally decided to build an entirely new facility on the north shore of the Ohio River, about a mile southwest of the original building.

In the meantime, Buhl Planetarium (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center in the 1980s) merged with (a.k.a. Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh or simply "The Carnegie") in January of 1987. Carnegie Institute is a huge museum complex, which includes the main branch of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, located in Oakland, Pittsburgh's educational/medical civic center, about four miles from the North Side. Industrialist Andrew Carnegie built Carnegie Library and Carnegie Institute in 1895 as the beginning of his effort to use the wealth he had amassed in the steel industry for the benefit of the general public.

While Buhl Planetarium/Buhl Science Center kept the "Buhl" name, the Board of Trustees of Carnegie Institute decided that the new facility would be named "The Carnegie Science Center." Inside The Carnegie Science Center would be a second Buhl Planetarium, officially named the " Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium and Observatory." This new facility included a smaller planetarium theater (50-foot diameter dome with 156 seats; the original Buhl Planetarium has a 65-foot diameter dome with seating for 425) and utilized a Digistar Projector (later replaced by a Digistar II Projector). The more traditional domed observatory (Bunl Planetarium's original " People's Observatory" used a flat, roll-away roof, due to the unique nature of the 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope) on the roof of The Carnegie Science Center (originally on the top of a stair-tower to eliminate building vibrations with images trsnsmitted into the planetarium via a CCD camera system; later, the observatory was moved to an observation deck to allow public access) was provided with a 16-inch reflector telescope.

With the closing of the original Buhl Planetarium as a public museum on 1991 August 31 (The Carnegie Science Center opened ro the public on 1991 October 5), the original Buhl Planetarium building became a tutorial center (known as "The Carnegie Science Center, Allegheny Square Annex") where Science Center Astronomy, Science, and Computer classes continued to be taught. It had been decided to use the original building for these classes, thus allowing more space in the new building for exhibits.

Due to financial problems, it was decided to consolidate the classes into the new building, effective February of 1994. At that time, the Buhl Planetarium building was completely closed. In the following years, there were several plans for reuse of the Buhl Planetarium building. None of these plans came to fruition, for both financial and political reasons.

Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

At the beginning of the new millenium, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh offered to expand their museum to include the Buhl Planetarium building. Beginning in June of 1983, the Children's Museum had been housed in the Old Allegheny Post Office, just across the street from Buhl Planetarium.

Regrettably, the Children's Museum management refused to retain most of the historic pieces of equipment and artifacts {including the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector, 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope, large Mercator's Projection Map of the World, and The Rise of Steel Technology mural), as well as a historic building inscription (astronomical quote from the Bible on the east exterior wall of the Buhl Planetarium building), despite efforts of local preservationists (particularly a new group called Friends of the Zeiss) to convince them otherwise; the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation was particularly concerned with the removal of the building inscription on the historic facade. These are all now dismantled and in storage. Friends of the Zeiss continues efforts to have these historic pieces of equipment and artifacts returned to the Buhl Planetarium building, to be used to educate children visiting the Children's Museum.

The Children's Museum constructed a modern "nightlight building" to physically connect the 1897 Old Allegheny Post Office with the 1939 Buhl Planetarium. The Children's Museum did retain and reuse the Foucault Pendulum and Grand Clock in the Buhl Planetarium's historic, marble-walled Great Hall on the first floor, as well as the beautiful wood-paneled Library and a separate office area wooden bookcase (page 31), both on the second floor (Library is now used for Children's Museum classes), and 40 of the original seats from the 250-seat Lecture Hall (a.k.a. Little Science Theater).

The Children's Museum is now using the Buhl Planetarium Great Hall as a cafe, and as such the cafe is free-of-charge to the public (you now need to enter the new entrance, in the "nightlight building," to access the cafe in Buhl Planetarium's Great Hall). The expanded Children's Museum, including the Buhl Planetarium building, opened to the general public in November of 2004.

Directions to Original Buhl Planetarium Building

Presently, the original (City-owned) building of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (1939) (located on the site of the former Allegheny City Hall) is being used as part of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. There is no admission charge to the first floor Great Hall of the original Buhl Planetarium building, as the Children's Museum uses the Great Hall as a cafe. Thus, for no charge you can see Buhl Planetarium's historic Foucault Pendulum and Grand Clock in the Sienna Marble-walled Great Hall.

The original Buhl Planetarium building is located four blocks north of the Allegheny River, across the river from Downtown Pittsburgh's "Golden Triangle." Originally located at the intersection of West Ohio Street at Federal Street on Pittsburgh's Lower North Side, the original Buhl Planetarium can now be found near the center of a pedestrian complex known as Allegheny Center. Allegheny Center, which now exists in what was the core of the central business district of the City of Allegheny (which merged with the City of Pittsburgh in 1907), is a multi-building office-retail-apartment complex constructed as part of a large 1960s-era Urban Renewal Project by the ALCOA Corporation. The original Allegheny City/Lower North Side street grid was significantly altered by the Urban Renewal Project, with several blocks of Federal Street and Ohio Street becoming pedestrian malls.

From Downtown, the most direct route to Buhl Planetarium is by walking across the Roberto Clemente (6th Street) Bridge and continue walking north along Federal Street and through the Allegheny Center Mall and beyond until you see the domed planetarium building on your left. Many public transit routes [from Downtown, bus routes with the numerical prefixes: 1, 6 (except bus route 6B), 11, 12, 16, 17, and also bus routes 500 and 501] serve the Allegheny Center vicinity; most of these bus routes stop within a block or two of Buhl Planetarium, on the periphery of Allegheny Center (Route 54C, which runs from Oakland and the South Side, is now the only bus route which goes directly to the Buhl Planetarium building). As a one-way highway completely encircles Allegheny Center, if driving you need to park on the periphery of Allegheny Center and, then, walk towards the center of the complex where Buhl Planetarium is located.

Map to Buhl Planetarium Building

Detailed Directions to Buhl Planetarium by:
Walking *** Public Transit *** Driving

Two other historic buildings, and a historic park, are adjacent to Buhl Planetarium:

1) Old Allegheny Post Office (1897) - also being used as part of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. This building is owned by the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

2) Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny/Carnegie Hall (1890) - The Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny, now known as the Allegheny Regional Branch of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, was the first Carnegie Library constructed in the Americas, which used public tax funds for day-to-day operations. Carnegie Hall, which now includes the Hazlett Theatre, was the world's first Carnegie Hall; New York City's famous Carnegie Hall opened a year later. This building, including both the Library and Music Hall, is owned by the City of Pittsburgh.

3) Allegheny Square - Originally known as the Allegheny Diamond, and later as Ober Park, Allegheny Square is a city-owned pedestrian plaza directly in front of the main Buhl Planetarium entrance.

Master Index

General
History

Planetarium &
Observatory

Institute &
Exhibits

Building
Physical Plant

Related
Biographies

Bios: Building
Inscriptions

Other
History Links

NEWS: Planetarium,
Astronomy, Space

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) -
Astronomy and Other Sciences

Eclipse of the Sun / Solar Eclipse:
Tips For Safe Viewing

Astronomical Calendar:

Current
Month

Current
Year

Archives

Quick-Reference Page - Science Including

Health &
Medical Info

Current Weather
Info & Maps

Precise Time
& Calendars

Have a Question About Astronomy or Other Sciences? Ask an Expert from Friends of the Zeiss!


Other Internet Web Sites of Interest

History of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh -
Which Housed the Oldest Operable Major Planetarium Projector in the World !

History of The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, Chicago -
America's First Major Planetarium !

History of Astronomer, Educator, and Optician John A. Brashear

History of Andrew Carnegie and Carnegie Libraries

The Duquesne Incline, Pittsburgh -
Historic Cable Car Railway Serving Commuters and Tourists since 1877 !

Other History Links


The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania U.S.A.
Quick History and
Current Use of Building by Children's Museum

Beginnings

Facilities, Programs,
and Exhibits

Carnegie Science Center

Children's Museum
of Pittsburgh

Directions to
Buhl Planetarium

Master Index

NEWS: Planetarium,
Astronomy, Space

Authored By Glenn A. Walsh *** Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
Electronic Mail: < quickhistory@planetarium.cc > *** Internet Web Site Cover Page: < http://www.planetarium.cc >
This Internet Web Page: < http://venustransit.pghfree.net/fotz/quickhistory.html >
2006 March

NEWS: Planetarium, Astronomy, Space, and Other Sciences

Have a Question About Astronomy or Other Sciences? Ask an Expert from Friends of the Zeiss!

Internet Web Site Master Index for the History of
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh

Disclaimer Statement: This Internet Web Site is not affiliated with the Andrew Carnegie Free Library,
Ninth Pennsylvania Reserves Civil War Reenactment Group, Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium and Observatory,
The Carnegie Science Center, The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Institute, or The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

This Internet, World Wide Web Site administered by Glenn A. Walsh.
Unless otherwise indicated, all pages in this web site are --
Copyright 2006, Glenn A. Walsh, All Rights Reserved.
Contact Web Site Administrator: < quickhistory@planetarium.cc >.

This Internet World Wide Web page created in March of 2006.
.