The Warner Observatory – Part I

Dr. Lewis SwiftThe Warner Observatory (1893)The Warner Observatory Interior and Dr. SwiftThere is little doubt that Warner’s ability to market his product accounts for his great success. He missed few opportunities to pitch his Safe Remedies to the public and to cloke them with the air of legitimacy. Perhaps one of his successful efforts in that regard was his sponsorship of the Warner Observatory and its principal scientist, Dr. Lewis Swift (pictured above). Warner was introduced to Dr. Swift prior to launching his patent medicine line in 1879. Dr. Swift had won gold medals from the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna for his discovery of comets. Feeling that his astronomical efforts were not appreciated in Rochester, Dr. Swift was ready to pack it in and move west to Colorado when Warner intervened.

Dr. Swift or “Professor” Swift, as he became known, was born in 1820 in Clarkson, New York. Handicapped by a childhood accident, Swift devoted his time to the study of astronomy. It appears that his titles were honorary and not the result of the award of any advanced degrees. Indeed, he was an astronomer by avocation only and the operator of a hardware store vocationally. However, his sightings of previously undiscovered comets elevated his reputation and enabled him to give lectures. His notoriety allowed him to begin the process of raising money for an observatory in Rochester.

Warner assured the “famous comet finder” that if Swift could raise the money to purchase a large telescope, Warner would furnish a place to put it. The original estimate for construction of the Observatory was $20,000. Dr. Swift was able to fulfill his part of the bargain and a 16-inch refractor telescope was ordered from Alvan Clark & Son in Massachusetts. Ultimately, the Observatory cost Warner $100,000 and was constructed of white Lockport sandstone and appointed with rare native hardwoods. The plans for the Observatory also called for an astronomical library, astronomical equipment and a residential space for Dr. Swift and his family.

But what did Warner get for his investment? More to come.

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2 thoughts on “The Warner Observatory – Part I

  1. Would love to read more. As I understand it, when Warner went belly-up, Dr. Lewis Swift took the telescope and went to another job on Echo Mountain in Altadena, CA. He held that job for nearly nine years discovering 95 new nebulae- then “the city in the clouds” went bankrupt. Wonder if he took the telescope to his next job. He had been offered a 40″ by the president of Harvard, but he died before putting it into his will. There’s a great Scientific American article about this in 1898 (front cover story).Interested how he and Lewis hooked up in the first place, Lewis always seemed so in the peripheral of the weird and eccentric. Not much of an academic, more like a survivor.

    • Thanks Sally. I think that “Professor” Swift followed the money. Do you have a copy of the Scientific American article. Would love to read it. He certainly made the most of his avocation.

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