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Alvan Clark

AKA Alvan Clark, Jr.

Born: 8-Mar-1804
Birthplace: Ashfield, MA
Died: 19-Aug-1887
Location of death: Cambridge, MA
Cause of death: Natural Causes
Remains: Buried, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Watertown, MA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Astronomer, Business

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Telescope maker

Alvan Clark worked for years as a calico engraver and portrait painter, and he was over 40 years old when his fascination with telescopes led him to embark on his third career as a lens grinder. He began building telescopes, and despite being entirely self-taught he garnered a reputation for making fine scientific instruments, as his lenses were among the most precise of the 19th century. In 1860 Clark made an 18-inch lens -- then the largest in the world, by three inches -- in a time when making an ordinary 4-inch lens required about a month's careful labor. Among his many customers, Clark's firm made lenses for the Dearborn Observatory in Chicago, the US Naval Observatory, the Pulkovo Observatory in Leningrad, and Lick Observatory in California. His son, Alvan G. Clark, was a partner in the firm, and in 1862, using one of the company's lenses at Northwestern University's Dearborn Telescope, he discovered Sirius B, the dim companion of Sirius and the first known white dwarf. Under his sons' direction, the family firm crafted a 40-inch lens for the Yerkes Observatory, in Williams Bay, Wisconsin -- still the largest refractor lens in the world.

Father: Alvan Clark (farmer-miller, b. 17-Aug-1771, d. 6-Jul-1835)
Mother: Mary Bassett Clark (b. 18-Aug-1773, m. 5-Feb-1795, d. 18-Feb-1855)
Brother: George Clark (b. 27-Jan-1798, d. 10-Mar-1816)
Brother: Barnabas Clark (wagonmaker, b. 11-Sep-1799, d. 27-Sep-1890)
Brother: infant Clark (b. Apr-1801, d. infancy)
Sister: Thankful Clark (b. 1-Apr-1802, d. 6-Oct-1831)
Brother: Samuel Clark (farmer, b. 5-Nov-1805, d. 11-Jun-1865)
Brother: Daniel Clark (b. 7-Nov-1807)
Sister: Mary Clark (teacher, b. 20-Nov-1809)
Sister: Abigail Clark Johnson (b. 13-Jan-1812, d. 24-Sep-1889)
Brother: William Clark (attorney, b. 15-Feb-1814, d. 24-Oct-1854)
Wife: Maria Pease Clark (b. 30-Nov-1808, m. 26-Mar-1826)
Son: George Bassett Clark (lensmaker, b. 14-Feb-1827, d. 20-Dec-1891)
Son: Alvan Graham Clark (astronomer-lensmaker, b. 10-Jul-1832, d. 9-Jun-1897)

    Rumford Prize 1867
    Alvan Clark & Sons President (1846-87)
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    English Ancestry

Author of books:
Autobiography of Alvan Clark (1889, memoir)

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