The Warner Observatory was perhaps H. H. Warner’s most visible contribution to Rochester, with the possible exception of his Safe Cure Building on St. Paul Street. While Warner no doubt possessed a philanthropic streak, it would have been out of character for him not to have had a marketing angle as well. At one level, that angle was to imbue the scientifically bereft field of patent medicine with legitimacy based on the science of astronomy. The interesting part is that Warner was no more a medical doctor than Swift was a degreed astronomer, but their partnership served the needs of both.
In his article, Atwater notes that the Warner Observatory tapped into the Victorian fascination with comets and the publicity associated with them. Combined with the prestige apparently associated with Dr. Swift, the Observatory was destined to attract favorable attention.
Ever the salesman, Warner left nothing to chance. He featured his Observatory in his advertising, including a tradecard depicting two children using a Safe Yeast container as a telescope, and on the back cover of the 1885 Safe Cure Almanac. He offered annual prizes of $200 in gold to any American astronomer who discovered a new comet or parts of meteorites found on earth that contained organic material and $50 for any meteorite seen falling during the current year. He also offer a $200 prize for an essay entitled “Comets, Their Composition, Purpose and Effect on Earth.” It is reported that Warner had paid out $1600 in prize money by 1883.
During the decade that the Warner Observatory was in operation, Dr. Swift is credited with the discovery of six new comets and 900 nebulae. Ultimately, the Observatory became a victim of the financial setbacks which doomed Warner’s Safe Remedies business. The above photo shows the Observatory in its declining years. LIke the Warner Mansion, the Observatory succumbed to the wrecking ball in 1929.