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Willard P. Gerrish papers

Biographical note

Willard Peabody Gerrish was born in 1866 and worked at the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory and, later, at Harvard College Observatory during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was hired by Abbot Lawrence Rotch as the first observer at Blue Hill when it opened in 1885, where he kept an ongoing account of the climate. After graduation from MIT in 1887 Gerrish eventually became an assistant professor of astronomy at Harvard College Observatory, where he worked under Edward C. Pickering and, later, Harlow Shapley. Shortly after traveling to Yokohama, Japan, to view the August 9, 1896, total solar eclipse, he married Mary Wylie and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They bought the Sir Henry Frankland Garden estate, in Ashland, Massachusetts, in 1911.

His tenure at Harvard College Observatory coincided with Pickering's advancement of the fields of astrophotography and spectroscopy, and Gerrish applied his mechanical skills to the development of telescope drives and other apparatus that would more precisely track celestial movement. He created, with Pickering, the Pickering Polaris Attachment, a telescope attachment that enabled the viewer to easily determine true north. He also designed a telescope known as the "Gerrish Polar Mount", as well as a telegraphic cipher code called "The Gerrish System," which was used to communicate astronomical information.

Gerrish was a sportsman and outdoorsman. He co-founded the Camp Ossipee Association in 1893, which promoted outdoor sports and the natural sciences. He was the licensed pilot and owner of a pleasure steamer.

Willard P. Gerrish died on November 10, 1951.