Meteorology at the Detroit Observatory

Mark Walrod Harrington was director of the Detroit Observatory from 1879-1891. He had a great interest in meteorology. Harrington obtained weather instruments and sent weather data to the Michigan State Board of Health in Lansing, which was responsible for agriculture and produced a weather report for farmers. Harrington created the nation's first meteorological journal here at the Detroit Observatory.

In 1891, Harrington left the Detroit Observatory to become the inaugural chief of the U.S. Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C. Under William J. Hussey's subsequent directorship, the Detroit Observatory became a station of the U.S. Weather Bureau in 1907, thereby contributing to a national effort to coordinate weather observations across the country.

Weather Instruments

Located on the north wall in the Library is a scar where bricks were removed to mount a camera for a self-registering thermometer. A thermometer was mounted in a weather shelter (4 in the drawing below) attached to the exterior of the building. The camera, mounted inside the building, automatically took photographs of the thermometer at regular intervals, thus making it self-registering.

Numerous weather instruments are visible in the circa 1885 photograph below. Locate them by referring to the image that follows.

Bentley Historical Library (bl001682)

  1. Windvane (on exhibit in the Observatory) was handmade at the Observatory
  2. Anemometer (on exhibit in the Observatory) was mounted atop the Director's residence
  3. Self-registering thermometer
  4. Weather shelter -- a louvered box mounted on the exterior to protect weather instruments
  5. Lightning rod
  6. A terrestrial radiation thermometer was supported on forked twigs and a solar radiation thermometer was hung on a frame
  7. Window shutters were fixed in place with a slanted roof set on top in order to protect a psychrometer, used to measure relative humidity
  8. A well was enclosed by a fence to keep out roaming livestock.

Snow and rain gauges were also located on the grounds.

Automatic Registering and Printing Barometer

University of Michigan
photographs vertical file
(UBImus C455-86)

Mark Harrington also purchased and installed a barograph in the Observatory. He sent barometric pressure, temperature, and wind data to the State Board of Health in Lansing. The Board was responsible for agriculture, and they produced a weather report for farmers and others.

G.W. Hough invented this "automatic" barometer, or barograph, in 1866 while he was the director of the Dudley Observatory in Albany, New York. Hough's barograph made a continuous record of changes in atmospheric pressure. This innovation eliminated the need for human readings, which had previously been taken several times a day at precise times. This is a historical photograph (Bentley Historical Library) of the actual instrument which was mounted in the Observatory.