Amateur Science Clubs at
The Buhl Planetarium and
Institute of Popular Science
Pittsburgh

Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh *** Amateur Transmitters' Association of Western Pennsylvania

Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society *** Mineral and Lapidary Society of Pittsburgh

Alternative Curriculum Astronomy Workshop, The Tripoli Federation

Authored By Glenn A. Walsh
Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
Electronic Mail: < amateurscience@planetarium.cc >
Web Page Information and Credits *** Master Index to Web Site

Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh

The
Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP) met at Buhl Planetarium from the opening of the building in 1939 until the building closed as a public museum in 1991. And, not only was this club never charged for meeting space at Buhl Planetarium, but during one of the first club meetings each year, the club was able to attend one planetarium sky for no charge!

Why? Because, the Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh was instrumental in the creation of Buhl Planetarium! Shortly after the opening of America's first major planetarium, the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum in Chicago, several members of AAAP visited this new facility and were enthralled by this new way of teaching Astronomy to the general public.

Led by AAAP co-founder (AAAP was founded on 1929 June 9) Leo J. Scanlon, the club lobbied local foundations and the City government to have a planetarium built in Pittsburgh. Their efforts were successful with the opening of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science on 1939 October 24. Leo Scanlon was one of the first two Planetarium Lecturers at Buhl Planetarium, using the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector. And, when the 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope opened to the public, on Buhl Planetarium's third floor on 1941 November 19, Mr. Scanlon scheduled members of the Amateur Astronomers' Association to operate the telescope, as Buhl Planetarium volunteers.

The Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh was permitted to hold their monthly meetings [first Friday of the month, 8:00 p.m.], for several months of the year, at Buhl Planetarium, in the 250-seat (original 1939 seats) Little Science Theater/Lecture Hall [on rare occasions, when the Little Science Theater was needed for a youth "overnighter" program or other special event, the meeting would take place in the Wherrett Memorial Classroom [originally known as the Club Room, the original meeting place for such clubs], which was the home of Buhl Planetarium's sex-education program, "Wonder of Wonders".

The months the club met at Buhl Planetarium were primarily September, October, April, and May--months when it was not possible to meet at the Allegheny Observatory Lecture Hall [the other primary meeting place, where meetings began at 7:30 p.m.], due to the Observatory's Frick Public Nights Program. The Frick Public Nights Program allowed free-of-charge tours of Allegheny Observatory, then-sponsored by the Henry Clay Frick Educational Commission (arranged, originally by the Commission's first Executive Director, John A. Brashear). When the Frick Educational Commission merged with the Buhl Foundation, in the 1990s, funding of these tours was assumed by the University of Pittsburgh, which legally owns the Allegheny Observatory. The free public tours continued to take place at the same time during the warm-weather months (April through October). The Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh also often met at Buhl Planetarium in January, or sometimes in February, when the club members would see a planetarium show for no charge; the club was permitted free admission to one sky show per year.

When Buhl Planetarium closed as a public museum, on 1991 August 31, all amateur science club meetings ceased at Buhl Planetarium. None of the amateur science clubs, including the Amateur Astronomers' Association, were invited to begin meeting at the new Carnegie Science Center, without payment of a large rental fee. However, about ten years later, The Carnegie Science Center did allow regular meetings of the AAAP to occur in The Carnegie Science Center building, for no charge, in exchange for the club's assistance with some special events, such as the annual observance of Astronomy Day.

Amateur Transmitters' Association of Western Pennsylvania

The Amateur Transmitters' Association of Western Pennsylvania (ATA) was another one of the amateur science groups which regularly met at The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science. The oldest club to meet at Buhl Planetarium, the ATA adopted their Constitution on 1926 February 19.

They met at Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, monthly on a Friday evening, in one of the classrooms on the lower level, just off of the Mezzanine, originally known as "Lab 1," but later known as the "Discovery Lab." They kept their coffee pot, and a few other pieces of club property, in their own locker (locked with their own disk-tumbler padlock), located near this classroom. This club participated, with the Buhl Planetarium Observatory, in a radio experiment during the solar eclipse of 1991 July 11.

When Buhl Planetarium closed as a public museum, on 1991 August 31, the Amateur Transmitters' Association had no where else to meet [they were not invited to meet at the new Carnegie Science Center, without paying a large rental fee; they paid a very nominal rental fee, usually ten dollars per meeting, for the Friday evening monthly meetings at Buhl Planetarium.]. Consequently, all regular meetings of ATA ceased.

The Amateur Transmitters' Association continued sponsoring quarterly amateur radio tests, on Saturday mornings, for people wishing to obtain an amateur ["ham"] radio license, in the third floor Lecture Hall of the Allegheny Regional Branch of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, next-door to Buhl Planetarium. On one occasion, in the late 1980s, when this Lecture Hall was not available for the quarterly tests, Buhl Planetarium agreed to let the club use the Discovery Lab for these tests. As the ATA could not legally charge any fee for these radio license examinations, both Carnegie Library and Buhl Planetarium (in the one instance) allowed use of the space for no charge.

These quarterly radio license exams continued through the mid-to-late 1990s. However, as the average age of club members continued to increase, and there were few young people joining the club, the quarterly radio tests were eventually phased-out--the last official function of the Amateur Transmitters' Association of Western Pennsylvania.

Here is the Constitution and By-Laws of the Amateur Transmitters' Association of Western Pennsylvania:

Page 1 *** Page 2 *** Page 3

News Regarding the Amateur Transmitters Association of Western Pennsylvania

Cammarata, Al. "Al Cammarata, W3AWU." Internet Web Page.
NoviceHistory.org Date Page Accessed: 2012 Sept. 11.
A couple months later I met George and several other high school age hams living in the area at a local radio club, Amateur Transmitters Association (ATA) which met monthly at the Buhl Planetarium, a local science center.

"TRANMITTERS." Column: Coming Events.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1955 March 4: 10.
Coming Events --
TRANSMITTERS---Gilbert L. Crossley, Atlantic division director of the American Radio Relay League, of State College, Pa., will address the Amateur Transmitters Association of Western Pennsylvania at their meeting at 8 p.m. today at Buhl Planetarium.

Steinhauser, Si. "Radio 'Hams' Give Up Pro Warring To Be Amateurs Once More."
The Pittsburgh Press 1945 Oct. 21: 32.
Amateur Transmitters Association and Steel City Radio Club have started meeting since the end of World War II.

"The Editor's Mill." Column: The Editor's Mill.
QST Magazine 1935 May: 7.
Finally, we lift an excellent suggestion from an article in The ATA News of the Amateur Transmitters Association of Western Pennsylvania: "Either as a club or individually we can visit bootleggers, explain the advantages of obtaining a license, the penalties attached to illegal operation, the amateur's aim and point of view in the butting in, and, if necessary, wave the big stick."

Grossarth, C. H. "What the Amateur Does in Radio."
The Pittsburgh Press 1931 Feb. 8.
C. H. Grossarth is a member of the Amateur Transmitters Association.

"Amateurs to Handle Code Messages Without Charge.
Pittsburgh Gazette Times 1926 May 30: Section 5, Page 4.
Arrangements have been completed between the Pittsburgh Gazette Times and the Amateur Transmitters Association of
Western Pennsylvania for the free transmission of messages to all parts of the world by the way of amateur radio
transmitting stations.

History of WLCR-AM Carrier Current, Lewisburg/White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia,
a rather unique educational radio station operated at a
Summer camp for boys and girls in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Saturday Light Brigade,
Weekly family/children's radio program, including periodic radio workshops for children,
aired on educational radio station WRCT-FM 88.3 of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh,
with studios in the Lower Level of Pittsburgh's historic Buhl Planetarium building.

Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society

Another amateur science group, which met during the 1980s at Buhl Planetarium, was the
Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society. This group of tropical fish enthusiasts met in Buhl Planetarium's Little Science Theater for no charge, in exchange for their production of an annual Tropical Fish Show at Buhl Planetarium. This popular show, where club members displayed their fish and fish tanks to the public, occurred for two weeks in the Autumn of each year, in one of the Buhl Planetarium exhibit galleries [usually the Mezzanine, but sometimes the Octagon Gallery or the East Gallery (earlier known as the Hall of the Universe, and originally called the Hall of Astronomy).

The Tropical Fish Show was presented at Buhl Planetarium for more than 40 years. At that time, this was the longest such relationship, between a fish enthusiasts club and a science museum in the country.

Often, one of the highlights of the show was the display of a pirana; a goldfish would be placed in the fish tank which, eventually, the pirana would consume. Sometimes an electric eel was also displayed.

However, in the late 1980s, Buhl Science Center management decided to discontinue the annual Tropical Show. This was despite the fact that this show brought people to the Buhl Science Center building at a time when visitation was low.

September, in particular, is the "deadest" time of the year, regarding visitation to museums by both the general public and school groups. One year Buhl management tried to attract more school groups to the Autumn by offering a discount rate. Not only would this have increased Autumn school field trip attendance, but school groups would not have had to endure the overcrowding which occurred during the very, very busy Spring school field trip season. Yet, few school groups took advantage of the discount rate; the tradition of school field trips in the Spring was too strong. As this discount offer was publicized to school teachers, who do not have to worry about the school budget, perhaps the result would have been different if the offer had been sent to school principals or school district superintendents!

In the case of Buhl Planetarium, the time provided for the Tropical Fish Show was between the busy Summer months and the even busier months of the annual four-month exhibition of the very popular Miniature Railroad and Village (which began the first week of November).

However, the management was set on getting rid of the Tropical Fish Show; apparently, they did not want this show to continue at the under-development Carnegie Science Center (and, they did not want to continue to the free meeting space for the Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society, in return for their presentation of the Tropical Fish Show; if the club wanted to meet at the new science center building, they would have to pay a hefty rental fee). Since this annual show was produced by "amateurs," Science Center Management said that the show did not meet the "high quality" criteria that Management places on other Science Center exhibitry. During the staff meeting, in Buhl's beautiful wood-paneled Library and Conference Room, where the decision was made to terminate the annual Tropical Fish Show, the author was the lone advocate fighting to save this popular show!

Mineral and Lapidary Society of Pittsburgh

In earlier years, other clubs, such as the Mineral and Lapidary Society of Pittsburgh, also met at Buhl Planetarium. Amateur Astronomers' Association co-founder Leo J. Scanlon was also an active member of the Mineral and Lapidary Society, as was the author.

The Mineral and Lapidary Society created an exhibit of minerals, rocks, and fossils from the six-state region (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, and New York), displayed for many years at Buhl Planetarium, in the first floor's Great Hall near the Little Science Theater. One specimen was provided for this exhibit, on-loan from the collection of Eric G. Canali, who served as Buhl Planetarium Floor Manager for most of the 1980s and until Buhl Planetarium closed as a public museum on 1991 August 31. In the 1990s, this Mineral and Lapidary Society exhibit was also displayed, for a few years, on the third floor of The Carnegie Science Center.

For much of the 1980s and 1990s, the Mineral and Lapidary Society met at 7:30 p.m. the third Friday of each month (August through May) in the public meeting room in the Borough of Whitehall Municipal Building (meeting room is adjacent to the Whitehall Public Library). The Mineral and Lapidary Society suffered the same problems as the Amateur Transmitters' Association: aging and declining membership, as well as competition from other similar clubs in the area. In the late 1990s, the club was officially disbanded.


Other Internet Web Sites of Interest

History of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh -
Including 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


Amateur Science Clubs at
The Buhl Planetarium and
Institute of Popular Science
Pittsburgh

Authored By Glenn A. Walsh
Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss

Electronic Mail: < amateurscience@planetarium.cc >
This Internet Web Page: < http://buhlplanetarium3.tripod.com/amateurscience.html >
Internet Web Cover Page: < http://www.planetarium.cc >

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

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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,
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This Internet, World Wide Web Site administered by Glenn A. Walsh.
Unless otherwise indicated, all pages in this web site are --
Copyright 2005, Glenn A. Walsh, All Rights Reserved.
Contact Web Site Administrator: < amateurscience@planetarium.cc >.

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