Oral History Transcript — Dr. Charles Huffer
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Charles Huffer; July 8, 1977
ABSTRACT: Early life in Indiana; Morse family; Albion College; Joel Stebbins at Illinois circa 1916; position at Lick Southern Station in Chile circa 1920 Graduate years at U. Wisconsin with Stebbins; early photo-cell observations; observing projects and color systems in 30s; advances in photoelectric photometry from 20s to WWII; teaching and research at U. Wisconsin; Eclipsing Binaries; students and associates; AAS activities in 40s and 50s. Interviewer was student of Huffer at San Diego circa 1967.
DeVorkin:Dr. Huffer, I know you were born in Indiana in 1894, and Iíd like you to go back to somewhere around that period in time and tell us a little bit about your parents, their background, your family and your early upbringing.
Huffer:Well, my father, Charles Huffer, came from Indiana, too. His father was a grocer back when I knew him, and before that he had Kansas fever and went out to Kansas and lost all of his money and came back to Indiana after I think about one year. Iím not certain about that. My father went to Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana, down on the Ohio River, where he roomed at the house of a professor at Hanover College whose name was Morse. Professor Morse was the seventh generation of the Morse family that started in New England about 20 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. His family had three sons and three daughters, and my father married the oldest daughter, Nellie. Then before they were married, he went to a Presbyterian seminary in Chicago and became a Presbyterian minister. And his first parish was in a little town in Indiana called Edinburg, where I was born on June 28, 1894.
DeVorkin:What was Professor Morse professor of?
Huffer:Mathematics and he was interested in astronomy, so maybe I inherited something of that from him. When I was two years old we moved to another town in Indiana north of Indianapolis named Tipton. Edinburg was about as far south of Indianapolis as Tipton was north, and I remember going through the railroad station of Indianapolis as we went to visit my grandparents down in Hanover. I had two brothers and a sister. They were all born in Indiana.
DeVorkin:Were you the oldest?
Huffer:Yes, I was the oldest. And then when I was about nine years old we moved to Michigan to a little town called Paw Paw over in the grape region near Lake Michigan. But I had started school in Tipton. I was in the third grade when we moved.
DeVorkin:This was public school.
Huffer:Public school, yes. And I continued to go to school in Paw Paw -- we lived there three years -- and then we moved to Albion, Michigan. Now, Albion has a very fine college. Itís a denominational school, a Methodist school, and I graduated from high school in Albion and went to college for four years.
DeVorkin:Letís talk about your high school years. Iím interested in the influences upon you in your early schooling and in your early home life that would have stimulated a scientific career, and so if there were any professors or if your mother or father were particularly influential, Iíd be interested to know about it.
Huffer:Well, Iíd say very definitely that I was influenced by my father in particular, because he was interested in mathematics. And off the record, he should have been in mathematics instead of in the ministry, but donít tell anybody. So he had quite a little influence on me, and I took all the mathematics I could get in both high school and college. There was one professorÖ The professor of mathematics at Albion, Professor Roscoe Sleight, who was my teacher for the four years and a very good friend, was influential upon me. He got me a scholarship at the University of Illinois, where I went at the end of 1916 and stayed one year and got my masterís degree in mathematics. Incidentally, Iíve always been interested in music, and I started to play the piano when we were still living in Paw Paw when I was probably about ten years old. And I studied piano and pipe organ at Albion College and was in the glee club and in the college chorus and played the organ in church for several years.
DeVorkin:Did you know from an early age that you were going to college? Was this expected of you?
Huffer:I donít know if it was expected of me, but I expected to, yes.
DeVorkin:And when did you have some idea of why you were going to college in terms of what you were interested in?
Huffer:Oh, I really canít answer that question, because Iíve always, as far back as I can remember, expected to go to college and I expected to be a mathematics teacher. I am sure I was influenced by having an excellent college only two blocks from our house in Albion.
DeVorkin:Was this desire to teach math an influence of your father, as you said?
Huffer:My father and grandfather. Of course, my grandfather died when I was about ten years old, and I donít really remember him because I only saw him occasionally. But Iím sure the tradition and his career in mathematics and my fatherís liking for it, had a good deal to do with my decision to teach mathematics.
DeVorkin:During this period did you develop any interest in astronomy to your knowledge?
Huffer:Well, my brother and I were interested, and we subscribed to Scientific American, because it had a sky map in it every month. I canít really remember learning about the constellations. I knew the famous ones, I guess. But we identified the planets that we could see. And then at the University of Illinois, in addition to my courses in mathematics, I wrote a thesis under the chairman of the department, whose name Iíll think of one of these minutes. Townsend. And I had a course in astronomy under Joel Stebbins. He was at the University of Illinois in 1916 to Ď17.
DeVorkin:How did you come to take that course under Stebbins?
Huffer:Because somebody I knew was going to be in it and wanted me to come in with him.
DeVorkin:This was a friend?
Huffer:A friend, yes, I had known in college.
DeVorkin:So there was no premeditation?
Huffer:No. Well, it wasnít hard to persuade me to take that course because I was interested. Before the end of that year -- that was early 1917 -- Professor Stebbins received a letter from the director of the Lick Observatory wanting somebody to go to Santiago, Chile to help out on their observations of southern stars. And being rather -- whatís the right word; the only word I think of is tired, but thereís a better word than that -- tired of my courses in mathematics (they were too abstract for me; I liked the practical side of mathematics), I was interested and decided to apply for the job. He recommended me and I was appointed. Sight unseen.
DeVorkin:How did you find out about it?
Huffer:The director of Lick, W. W. Campbell, wrote to Stebbins.
DeVorkin:How did Stebbins know to ask you or did he announce it to the class?
Huffer:He announced it to the class. This was a small class of three. This was in practical astronomy. Yes, thatís a good question. (pause - Mrs. Huffer discusses Morse family.)
DeVorkin:Morse was related to Samuel F. B. Morse?
Mrs. Huffer:He was from the Morse family, and when they traced it down and found out how awful Samuel Morse was, they decided they werenít so pleased about it. Iíll look in here and see if there isnít something in here. This is the history.
Huffer:To get back to this question, my maternal grandfather was in the seventh generation from the founding of the family. There were two brothers that came over to this country in 1630, and my grandfather was in the seventh, from one brother, and Samuel F. B. was in the seventh generation from the other one. Thatís the connection.
DeVorkin:How far back does your fatherís family go?
Huffer:Not very far, maybe the early 1800ís.
DeVorkin:Where did they come from?
Huffer:Well, I know that my grandmother came from Ohio, and where my grandfather came from, Iím not sure. He was in the Civil War. I think he was only 17 then. I donít think he was very much of a soldier. In fact, I think he was a drummer in the Civil War. I donít know about that. So I donít know very much about my fatherís family.
DeVorkin:Well, weíre back to that interesting course of three students that you took with Stebbins. This was a course in practical astronomy?
Huffer:Practical astronomy, in which we used the transit instrument for accurate determination of time and position. And we looked at things through the 12-inch refracting telescope there.
DeVorkin:Did you use this telescope for any observing projects?
Huffer:No, but Stebbins did. He was doing research with a photoelectric cell in 1916, attached to the 12-inch telescope.
DeVorkin:And this was a selenium cell?
Huffer:No, it was a photo-cell. He had used the selenium cell before that and with the same telescope I assume. And we had problems with the use of instruments like the transit instrument and the sextant and a little bit of theoretical astronomy like the computation of orbits, but I donít remember much about that. I picked all that up later. So I was appointed research assistant at the University of California in Santiago, Chile. The observatory was on Cerro San Cristobal and the office was down in the city and moved several times in the five years I was there.
DeVorkin:Was this the only course in astronomy taught there by Stebbins at that time? Did he have any advanced students?
Huffer:No, we were the advanced students. I donít know. He must have had an undergraduate course in beginning astronomy, but he was more interested in his research than he was in teaching. In fact, he was a good research man and a poor teacher actually.
DeVorkin:He certainly had a lot of students, though, during the years. Did you work with the photo-cell at all?
DeVorkin:Were you aware of the problems he was having with the photo-cells and did he ever talk to you about it?
Huffer:No, not really, but we knew it worked and I think we saw it in operation one time, but that didnít impress me at all.
DeVorkin:Do you think any of that material is still there, possibly in the archives?
Huffer:At the University of Illinois?
DeVorkin:Yes, the early photo-cells?
Huffer:Oh, the early photo-cells. The early photo-cells may be in Madison. I know we had one or two maybe more. You see, the photo-cells we used in Madison were made at the University of Illinois, the first ones.
DeVorkin:Who was making them there?
Huffer:A gentleman named Jacob Kunz that Stebbins had met in Germany. He imported Kunz and his knowledge of how to make cells to the University of Illinois, and I think he was a professor of physics.
DeVorkin:Well, we can get to that aspect of your recollections a bit later. Letís go to the Chilean year.
Huffer:I spent five years there from 1917 to 1922.
DeVorkin:That must have been quite an experience.
Huffer:Well, it certainly was. I first went out to Lick Observatory for two weeks for indoctrination, you might say.
DeVorkin:Who was your ďindoctrinator?Ē
Huffer:Well, actually W. W. Campbell was in charge. But a couple of other members of the staff -- J. H. Moore and there was somebody else... I donít know whether it was R. G. Aitken. But anyway this was to be spectrographic completely. The problem was: Campbell had already written a book on the motions of stars, Stellar Motions. And he had determined the velocity of the sun among the stars, but he lacked observations around the South Pole that he couldnít observe from California. So down there we took and measured the spectra. We had a 37-inch reflecting telescope with 1, 2 or 3 prism spectrographs.
DeVorkin:Was the observatory already established when you went down there?
DeVorkin:And who did you go down there with?
Huffer:I went alone, but the director down there was Ralph Wilson. Incidentally, I came across a biography written about him on his death. He died in 1960.
DeVorkin:How did you get down there?
Huffer:I didnít fly, Iíll tell you that. (laughter) I went to Lick, as I told you, to San Francisco and by train to San Jose and then by car up to the observatory. Itís over a winding road about 20 miles. And then they took me up in a car. Mount Hamilton is I think at 4200 feet. And somebody else took the spectra that I worked on, but they instructed me in how to measure and to compute the radial velocity of a star. My problem was that they gave me a chart of the line positions, the wavelengths I guess they were, and they didnít agree with what I was getting on the plates. Well, it was a matter of temperature change. These were standard positions, and the plate was distorted a little bit by temperature changes, and so you had to compensate for that.
DeVorkin:These were your tests at Lick?
DeVorkin:Did they do that purposely do you think?
Huffer:No, I donít think so. This was just routine. Well, anyway, I learned how to do it.
DeVorkin:Did you use the 36-inch refractor at all?
Huffer:Well, not really. I was around the 36 while they were taking these plates and probably saw a star.
DeVorkin:Were you going to be an observer in Chile?
DeVorkin:And yet they didnít train you in observing at Lick.
Huffer:There was no problem about that. Well, all you had to do was put the plate in and pull the slide out. Incidentally, one night the staff was having a party, and so Dr. Campbell decided that he would like to do the observing that night. I donít know how long he worked, but he discovered afterwards that heíd forgotten to pull the slide that exposed the plate to the light.
DeVorkin:Was he at the party first?
Huffer:I donít know. I know what you mean. No, I donít think so.
DeVorkin:Do you recall the atmosphere and how the people got along with each other and how Campbell was as a director?
Huffer:There were, as I understood it, two parties. Oh, they were congenial. I enjoyed it up there and learned to play auction bridge and I donít know what else.
DeVorkin:What were these two parties? These were two different interests?
Huffer:Well, just little cliques I guess. I donít know very much about it.
DeVorkin:Do you know who was in each clique?
DeVorkin:Well, how was Campbell regarded as director?
Huffer:Well, he was the high muckety-muck. He was the boss. And I think he was greatly admired by everybody for what he had done.
DeVorkin:He was a strong director?
Huffer:Yes. And this was wartime, 1917. I had to get permission to leave the country, of course. They had a garden down a couple of thousand feet on the side of the mountain. I remember going down there one day to see it. I thought Iíd never get back up I guess.
DeVorkin:You walked down.
DeVorkin:How did Campbell treat you?
Huffer:Well, now, this is better than 50 years ago. He was a very austere looking man. He had real bushy eyebrows. It would scare you to death just to walk into his office. But I think he was always very nice to me, and certainly if he hadnít been satisfied, he wouldnít have sent me down there I think.
DeVorkin:How was the trip from San Francisco down to South America?
Huffer:I went down the coast by train. I had some relatives who lived -- a couple of aunts -- down in Santa Monica outside of Los Angeles. Then I went by train to New Orleans, and that was a hot trip. You know what air conditioning they had in those days. Youíd open a window if you wanted to and it was hot -- hot, hot. And then I stayed several days in a hotel in New Orleans. This was my first big trip away from home. So I took the sight-seeing trips and went to the movies and a concert by some orchestra. And then the United Fruit boat to Panama - Colon I guess was the Atlantic port. I stayed there several days, and then I boarded a Chilean boat which went through the canal and stopped for some hours, I guess, over on the Pacific side, and then continued on down the west coast of South America to places like the port of Lime, Callao, and then some others. I went a-shore two or three times. And finally down to Valparaiso. I was met by the American consul and then went by train up to Santiago where Ralph Wilson met me. I stayed with him at his house until I could find a place to live. He was married and had one child.
DeVorkin:Was there a training period for you down there? Did Wilson show you how to use the instruments?
Huffer:Yes, I went up on the mountain with him for a week or two and then he had certain nights a week and I had certain nights a week. In 1917 he left to come back to the States and I was left alone for I think about a year and a half.
DeVorkin:You did all the observing.
DeVorkin:Did you do the measuring down there too?
DeVorkin:Did you learn any Spanish?
Huffer:Oh, yes. I read the newspapers, and read some books I guess. And I exchanged lessons -- you might call them -- in pronunciation with an Italian whose Spanish was excellent, and so I think that I developed a pretty good Spanish pronunciation.
DeVorkin:Did you have any contacts with the University in Santiago?
DeVorkin:At this time I know that the telescope was later sold to the University at Santiago.
Huffer:Thatís the Catholic University of Santiago. Yes, thatís right. They did transfer the observatory. And I donít know whatís happened to it since.
DeVorkin:How did the telescope work? Was it based on the same design as the Crossley?
Huffer:No, I donít think so. I canít remember much about the Crossley.
DeVorkin:There was a 37-inch reflector.
Huffer:There was a 37-inch reflector and it had a peculiar driving mechanism which gave us plenty of trouble. There was a weight that slid clown a sector that was parallel to the equator, and the trouble was that the weight did not fall vertically and it would skip and stick and thatís the way it worked. See, this expedition was taken down there in 1905 or whatever that date was expecting to stay about five years. Well, it had been over ten. They expected to stay about five years and stayed a lot longer than that, so it was a makeshift telescope. But the spectrograph was excellent. We got good plates. It was a Campbell design. I think it was made in the shops at Lick.
DeVorkin:Thatís the kind of information weíre interested in. Youíve got a very good memory.
Huffer:Well, what Iíve been telling you is very clear in my mind.
DeVorkin:How did you feel being all alone down in South America like that? You must have seen the sky down there for the first time. Did you have any idea of just how much there was to be done down in that sky?
Huffer:Oh, probably not. It was just routine. We had a list of stars we observed. I do remember listening for the time gun at noon for accurate time, because we needed that for our plates. But I had some friends down there. In fact, I was very closely associated with a mission school for girls and married one of the teachers while I was down there, and our daughter was born there in Santiago. I went there in Ď17 and she was born in Ď21, four years later. She was a year old when we brought her to the States. So those were my social contacts. I knew some of the Chilean people. I lived in rooming houses. The first place I lived was some distance from the observatory. And, incidentally, we didnít have cars in those days, so we had to climb that 900 feet to the observatory, which I didnít like too well.
DeVorkin:Did you have all the photographic materials up at the observatory?
Huffer:Yes, we had a Chilean watchman. He couldnít speak English and I couldnít speak Spanish, so we didnít get along too well together.
DeVorkin:That was only at the beginning, though.
Huffer:Well, I never was able to understand him very well, but he was there all the five years I was there. But he brought up the supplies. Of course, I guess we brought up some things. And I used to go up about four oíclock in the afternoon. It took a good hour I guess to climb the hill. And I opened up the dome so it would be more or less the same temperature it would be at night. In fact, they had used before that a cooling device of some sort to keep the mirror at a constant temperature, but it didnít work very well, so we didnít use it.
DeVorkin:Some kind of a fan?
Huffer:No, I donít know. I never saw it work.
DeVorkin:Did you ever have any trouble getting your supplies from the United States like the photographic plates and chemicals?
Huffer:Not that I remember.
DeVorkin:Were the relations pretty cordial between the city officials and the observatory?
Huffer:Well, we didnít have much to do with them or they with us. This was sort of an isolated location. It was on a hill surrounded on three sides by the city. There were three peaks, as I remember, and we were on the middle one. On the south peak there was a big statue of the Virgin which was illuminated. And later they had an elevator to get up to it, but I never did go over there.
DeVorkin:Did the light ever bother the observatory?
Huffer:No, I donít think so.
DeVorkin:When you went down there, how long did you expect to stay? Did you know it was for five years?
Huffer:Yes, I knew it was for five years.
DeVorkin:And what were your ideas about what you were going to do after that?
Huffer:Well, I think my ideas were probably changed while I was there, because I liked the astronomy better than I did the mathematics. And I guess I expected to go back to California, but I went back to Madison, Wisconsin instead.
DeVorkin:Why was that?
Huffer:Well, it was because Joel Stebbins knew I was going to come home. That was after about four years. And one day I got a letter from him apologizing for not having written me sooner, said he was in the process of making a change to the University of Wisconsin and would I like to come back as a graduate assistant, a chance to get my Ph.D. Well, it took me all of five minutes I guess, to decide to do it. Of course Campbell was still director, and just exactly why I didnít want to go to California, I donít know, but I did like the idea of going to Madison with Stebbins.
DeVorkin:Did you talk to Campbell by letter at all about it?
Huffer:Well, see, it took a month each way to get a letter back and forth.
DeVorkin:Well, what was his reaction to your going to Madison?
Huffer:Oh, I think he was perfectly satisfied. I donít remember that there was any difficulty whatsoever about that. My contract was ended. He paid my expenses back to New York and from New York to Wisconsin I was on my own.
DeVorkin:You had a wife and child.
Huffer:Yes. Well, my wife died after weíd been in Madison about a year. Elizabeth is my second wife.
DeVorkin:What had happened to her?
Huffer:Well, she died in her second pregnancy. It was kidney failure, I guess. I donít think she liked it in Madison anyway.
DeVorkin:What was her name?
Huffer:Her name was Ruth Tribby. Our daughterís name is Helen.
DeVorkin:What was your first wifeís background?
Huffer:She had graduated from a college in Indiana -- I canít think of the name of it -- and went down to Santiago as a missionary teacher.
DeVorkin:I see, okay. Well, youíre back in Madison now as a graduate student and a graduate assistant moreover. Was there an actual graduate program there then?
Huffer:I was it. No, we didnít have any more students, and I minored in physics. I was supposed to have a minor in mathematics, but I never did follow that up. And I did all my astronomy work by reading and consult with Stebbins.
DeVorkin:It was tutorial then.
DeVorkin:Why did Stebbins decide to go to Wisconsin?
Huffer:Well, I think the reason was that the conditions for photoelectric observations at Illinois then were practically impossible. The weather, the smoke from the city. The campus -- was it Bill Nye? one of our humorists -- said the campus rises to an eminence of six feet.
Huffer:Iím not sure thatís who it was, but it was somebody like that.
DeVorkin:Was he in astronomy?
Huffer:No, he was just a humorist. He had nothing to do with astronomy. Have you been in Madison?
Huffer:The observatory site was selected in 1878 by Governor C. C. Washburn, who gave the funds for building the observatory. He had previously given the University another site for the observatory. He had selected a site south of what is now the city of Madison. It turned out to be pretty low and swampy right on the edge of Lake Wingra. The university had another site right on the campus. It was about 100 feet above Lake Mendota, which was north. And that was favorable because of prevailing northerly winds, so there would be no smoke from the city. This is the site that was finally selected. So it was considered an ideal spot for astronomy. And it continued to be for, well, letís say 80 years. Stebbins had been a student at the university along about 1905. G. C. Comstock, who had been his astronomy professor and observatory director, retired in 1922. I just barely met Comstock. Oh, I guess I had met him at meetings of the American Astronomical Society. He was very much impressed with Stebbins and Stebbins certainly thought a great deal of Comstock. And I donít think they considered anybody else when Comstock retired. There was a house right there 200 feet from the observatory, and that was the astronomerís residence. And I think that did it for Stebbins.
DeVorkin:The telescope was a little bigger, too, wasnít it?
Huffer:The telescope was a little bigger. It was 15-6/10ths inches and his at Illinois was 12. So the observing conditions were ideal in those days.
DeVorkin:And so when you got there, there were really only two people in astronomy, you and Stebbins.
DeVorkin:What were some of your first projects with him?
Huffer:Well, the first thing was to get the equipment to work, and thereís a story connected with that, too. The photo-cell was made by Kunz. I think that we had one of the old ones from Illinois and also a new one that was probably better. And then the University of Wisconsin mechanic built a box to put the cell in and it was fastened on to the eye-end of the telescope. I should have a picture to show you.
DeVorkin:Okay, after a short pause to look for a picture of the first photoelectric photometer at Washburn in 1923, Dr. Huffer is showing me a picture on page 176 of An Introduction to Astronomy, 2nd edition, by Huffer, Trinklein and Bunge. And this is a picture of the first photoelectric photometer at the Washburn Observatory. Inside is a Kunz photo-cell.
DeVorkin:How did this operate, this machine?
Huffer:Well, the telescope is up here above and the photo-cell is in this box.
DeVorkin:Thatís in the rectangular box in the middle of the picture.
Huffer:Right. And the focus is about there with an eyepiece so that you know the star is centeredÖ
DeVorkin:Itís just above the box.
Huffer:Itís just above the box. So the star is out of focus when it impinges on the photo-cell. You donít want just a spot. It was about an inch in diameter where it hit the sensitive surface of the photo-cell, I think. And then there was a series of wires that came down to the electrometer here. Thatís a string electrometer.
DeVorkin:And itís the object hanging below the telescope. Iím just describing this for the tape.
Huffer:Yes. Well, in this cylinder here are two charged plates. I forget the charge: say +90 and -90 volts. And thereís a string, so-called, in the middle which after considerable experimenting and trouble was made of platinum. And the electronsÖ Now, this is old-fashioned physics -- maybe Iím wrong. The electrons from the photo-cell pile up on the string and they are attracted one way or other -- they are attracted towards the positive side. And then you look through a telescope here which is focused on the wire.
DeVorkin:Thatís a little eyepiece on the side of the cylinder.
Huffer:And the technique is to time the rate of charge on the string, on the wire. So we had a scale in the eyepiece and you measured the length of time it took the wire to move from one division of the scale to the other timed with a stopwatch. And that was rather grueling observing, to observe this all night, for example.
DeVorkin:How long would it usually take?
Huffer:Well, we let it run for 10 to 20 seconds, somewhere in that order, depending on the brightness of the star. A bright star -- zip, it would go out in a big hurry. A faint star would take longer because there are more electrons being developed by the photo-cell on a bright star than there are on a faint star. So it took just that much longer.
DeVorkin:How could you see a wire in there? How was it illuminated?
Huffer:You see these two ears out here? I think there was light in one of those that shone on the wire and must also have been some way of illuminating the scale -- Iíve forgotten.
DeVorkin:Now, when you went from star to star, you had to discharge the wire?
Huffer:Yes. Letís see -- how did we do that? I donít know. Now, these things down hereÖ
Huffer:Yes, the weights made this thing hang vertical.
DeVorkin:Yes, because that wire could easily be affected by any non-vertical arrangement.
DeVorkin:So basically you could not touch the eyepiece as you were looking through it or else you would jar the whole apparatus and make a spurious measurement?
Huffer:Yes, thatís correct.
DeVorkin:And that could be just about at any position depending upon where the star was.
Huffer:Yes. Well, thatís the idea of hanging it on gimbals here so it was always vertical in any position. Later there was a little instrument, an electrometer, developed in England, that replaced the string electrometer, and this would operate in any position; so that it was much easier than hanging the electrometer so it would always be vertical. This had to be perfectly free. Then another thing that happened we should record: we were having trouble with that first cell. It didnít operate like Stebbins thought it should and like it had down at Illinois. So one day he told me to go down in the basement to check the batteries with a volt meter. Now, the photo-cell had on it a potential of something like 300 v., and he had bought a set of very special batteries, that were supposed to be the best available, and kept them in the basement. Then there was a wire from the basement up to the photo-cell. So I went down with a volt-meter and put it on, and the thing went off scale backwards. So I went up and said, ďI think I know how to operate a voltmeter, but this thing goes on backwards. And so we found out that the cells had been marked wrong; what was supposed to be +100 v. was -100 v. We turned that around and everything was all right. So that was my first contribution to photoelectric photometry, I guess. We had been struggling for several months. This was in 1923.
DeVorkin:What were some of your other activities there at the time? Did Stebbins teach any formal courses other than the tutorials he had with you?
Huffer:No. It was almost entirely research. I had a course every semester in physics, and then I was reporting to him fairly regularly on my reading, and finally took my degree. I never was very well satisfied, but he gave it to me anyway.
DeVorkin:What was your thesis topic?
Huffer:Photoelectric photometry of Variable Stars. I havenít got a copy of that thesis come to think of it.
DeVorkin:Iíd like to know what the reaction of others was to this new way of measuring star brightness. Did people come and visit Stebbins and see his instruments? What was his contact with, letís say, Yerkes and other places during these first few years?
Huffer:Well, I donít remember that they came very much, but he did build a photometer for Yerkes and took it over there and operated it, and I went over there one semester. And that was the one that really stuck. He built a photometer for Lick Observatory, and he went out there -- I didnít -- and then later when Mount Wilson came into more prominence, he was appointed a Research Associate, I guess they called them, at Mount Wilson.
DeVorkin:Did you have any idea of how the people at Yerkes reacted? Who was interested at Yerkes at that time?
Huffer:Yes, it was a fellow named C. T. Elvey. And I think there was somebody else there who was also interested.
DeVorkin:Was E. B. Frost interested or involved?
Huffer:Well, I suppose he was. Frost was blind at that time? You knew that?
DeVorkin:I knew that he was going blind, but I didnít know he went completely blind.
Huffer:Yes, he did. And he was the director of the observatory. People read to him. Of course, he didnít do any observing. But I think his reaction was: ďWell, Stebbins is the best in photoelectric photometry and just let him work and leave him alone.Ē I donít even remember what they did over there at Yerkes.
DeVorkin:That was a year after Barnard died.
Huffer:Barnard must have died in Ď23.
DeVorkin:Did you meet him?
Huffer:I think I did. In fact, I think I heard him lecture one time. He was a very well liked man.
DeVorkin:Hubble got his degree at Yerkes. You didnít see him, I take it.
Huffer:No, I knew him out at Mount Wilson. Letís see: there were two or three other men there at Yerkes.
DeVorkin:Well, we can come to them as you remember the names.
Huffer:Iíll have to look at some record.
DeVorkin:There never seemed to be any inability of astronomers to accept this new device?
Huffer:No, I think they recognized it for what it was worth. And as it developed, it became more and more prominent, and the other universities adopted it. Well, now, we should bring in Whitford.
DeVorkin:Certainly. But let me still ask you: what were some of the very early problems with it, design problems, and how did Stebbins see the future of photoelectric photometry in the early Ď20s? How faint could you go with the 15-inch refractor?
Huffer:I think down to about 6th magnitude.
DeVorkin:You certainly wanted to go fainter than that.
Huffer:Yes. And to go fainter than that, you needed a bigger telescope. But the research problem that I was given when I first went there, and I didnít know enough physics and I was incapable of handling it and so I soon dropped it, was to work on the amplification of photoelectric current by means of vacuum tubes. And thatís where Albert Whitford comes in. You see, he was a physicist. He got his degree in physics. And when he came to the department of astronomy or maybe even before, by that time it was possible to amplify the photo current by means of vacuum tubes.
DeVorkin:But this was still external amplification.
Huffer:Yes. And the advance that Whitford made was to put the amplifier in a vacuum.
DeVorkin:When was that?
Huffer:Thatís a good question. I would guess in the neighborhood of 1930.
DeVorkin:Well, could you say then that the period between when you got to Washburn in 1922 you mainly did observations with these cells without amplification and started working on some variable star systems at that time?
Huffer:Yes, we worked on variable star systems right from the first. But then we got the idea of working on colors of stars. Well, even before that on the variations of the red stars.
DeVorkin:Yes, I have a paper of yours on that, on The Constancy of the Red Stars. That was one of the ones you recommended I look at. And I have a number of other Washburn publications from the Ď20s on eclipsing variable 21 Cassiopeiae. That was l928.
Huffer:Yes, I discovered the variability of that star.
DeVorkin:You mentioned color systems, getting interested in color systems, and that just reminded me of the fact that J. A. Parkhurst was another man at Yerkes. Did you have any contact with him, because he was doing a lot of work in color index determination.
Huffer:No, not really. I knew him. But I never was associated with him in any kind of work.
DeVorkin:He was not one of the people who was using Stebbinsí photometry there?
Huffer:I donít think so. There was somebody associated with Elvey, and I canít think now who that could have been.
DeVorkin:We can look that up, because I can get a record of who was there.
Huffer:Yes, if you get records of Elveyís papers, youíll find out.
DeVorkin:Right. Okay, then, how did you get interested and how did Stebbins get interested in color work?
Huffer:Well, from his connection with Mount Wilson. I donít remember who suggested it, but one of the men out there thought that there was a variation of color due to absorption of light in space. So we made a list or had it made up for us, I guess, of stars of class B, which are blue stars normally. That is, from their spectrum theyíve got to be blue, and we measured 1332 blue stars.
DeVorkin:That paper came out in 1940, but when did the work actually start?
Huffer:Have you got a copy of that paper here?
DeVorkin:Yes, okay, thatís in the ApJ.
Huffer:Oh, 733 stars was the first work. Letís see: reference to publications in 1934. This is an extension of an earlier study in 1934. I suppose that Ď34 was preliminary to it. I donít know whether that paper was given a date or not. Ď37 at Madison -- and Ď31 and Ď38. Well, just to give you an idea of the accuracy of this. Letís see: ďThe probable error of color index is 2/ or 3/100ths for Madison and 1/ or 2/100ths for Mount Wilson.
DeVorkin:Why was the probable error smaller for Mount Wilson? Were there more observations?
Huffer:I donít know -- maybe the sky.
DeVorkin:The sky was more constant.
DeVorkin:What was your part in this work?
Huffer:Well, I donít know how much of the observing I did, but roughly I did three-quarters of it. And then I went out to Mount Wilson and finished it up. I observed the southern stars. I remember crawling underneath the old 100-inch telescope one night. If it had given way I would have been squashed.
DeVorkin:Which focus of the 100-inch did you use?
Huffer:We were using the Newtonian. Because I was up at the upper end of the telescope.
DeVorkin:But you mentioned that the telescope was on top of you.
Huffer:Yes. Well, you see, this would be the mirror down here, and the photometer was at the Newtonian focus, so in observing 40 degrees south of the Equator, something like that, the telescope was almost horizontal.
DeVorkin:Oh, I see. That must have been incredible.
Huffer:Yes, it was. And also that same year I measured the colors of, I think, it was 25 galaxies for Dr. Edwin Hubble. I think we measured the color at the center and the color out at the end.
DeVorkin:What year was this?
DeVorkin:Did you work directly with Hubble? How was that arrangement made?
Huffer:No, I was working on my own, and A. E. Whitford was out there. He was a fellow at Caltech at that time, and I think that he and I worked together, but Hubble came to me and asked if we wouldnít measure the colors of these galaxies for him. As I remember it, they came out about Class ďFĒ and ďGĒ something along in there.
DeVorkin:Do you have any recollections of him?
Huffer:Oh yes, I remember him. I donít know that I have any comments to make about him.
DeVorkin:Did you see Hale at all? That was a year or two before he died, or several years before he died.
Huffer:I donít think I saw him around the observatory at all. Weíd go up and stay two or three days at a time at the monastery, and I remember one night going up and coming down in the rain. It scared the daylights out of me.
DeVorkin:That must have been quite rough. What was your position at Washburn at that time? Were you on the faculty?
Huffer:I got my degree in 1926.
DeVorkin:Right. And youíre listed as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin from Ď26 to Ď61.
Huffer:Yes. Well, I probably was an assistant professor at that time.
DeVorkin:What were some of the advances in the design of the photo-cell from the Ď20s through the Ď30s?
Huffer:There were no improvements. Those Kunz cells were the last word and thatís all we used.
DeVorkin:Those were the potassium cells.
Huffer:Potassium, yes. Well, I think we may have had a sodium cell too. And it didnít work as well as the potassium. And then when we got the multiplier, that was the next step, the next advance.
DeVorkin:Didnít Whitford have something to do with developing that?
Huffer:I think he may have, because during the war he went east, and I think he went to England, and I think that they were working on radar. See, this was hush-hush. But what he did at Washburn was to put the thing in a vacuum to keep out the stray electrons -- whatever they are -- in space. See, we had northern lights in Madison.
DeVorkin:And the northern lights, would they interfere?
Huffer:I donít think they did. We were pretty well shielded. But putting the equipment in a vacuumÖ Now, what did we have in there? We had the photocell and the vacuum tube and pumped out the air so that there was no outside interference, and it worked a lot better that way. In fact, thatís the only way it would work.
DeVorkin:Did you find it worked better in the winter than in the summer?
Huffer:Yes, because of the temperature. Later, with the multiplier we used dry ice. We would cool it with dry ice.
DeVorkin:This was all on the 15-inch refractor.
DeVorkin:When Stebbins started doing color work, did they start getting interested in reflectors at Wisconsin, or did you know that youíd have to go to a better observing site?
Huffer:I donít think we thought about it because we had access to Mount Wilson and the Lick Observatory. He was out at Lick -- I am sure it was more than one year -- but he went out to Mount Wilson every summer for a long time. I did the housekeeping. (laughter)
DeVorkin:Well, there must have been students. Was Whitford one of the first students to come in 1930 approximately?
Huffer:He was a graduate student in physics, and he didnít come over to us until he got his degree in physics.
DeVorkin:I see. Well, what about students then going through the Ď20s and Ď30s?
Huffer:Didnít have any. I was it. Now, let me see. I think it was 1926 when the Russell-Dugan-Stewart text appeared. Thatís when I started teaching.
DeVorkin:And you used that book, Russell-Dugan-Stewart?
Huffer:Yes. We had a preprinted 100 pages I think it was, and there were two volumes and one was the solar system and the second volume was stellar systems. And I guess we had classes in both but it was the stellar system mostly that we were interested in. And I taught Astronomy 17, and when those courses were introduced, 17 was a survey course. And I had the first one in astronomy and taught that until I left in Ď61. Was that when I left?
DeVorkin:Yes, 1961. What kind of students did you teach?
Huffer:Well, they were from all colleges of the University. The students had to have a science for their degrees, and so these courses were set up in astronomy and physics and mathematics maybe, and some others. There were half a dozen or more. Well, the astronomy was about the only one that lasted all the way through. I guess the interest wasnít very strong in the others, and we had a classroom in the observatory that seated about 50. And I had that filled practically every semester, and finally had to get a classroom in the physics building. What course did you have with me at San Diego? I donít have any records.
DeVorkin:Binary stars. We did orbit analysisÖ
DeVorkin:Yes, computations. Did you teach courses like that?
Huffer:No. I taught the general astronomy, which was 17, or Astronomy 1. I didnít teach Astronomy 1 very much. Astronomy 17 was the survey astronomy. And astrophysics, using R-D-S. And then during the war, not World War I. World War II: the University was short on teachers of mathematics, and so I was one that was drafted into that. I taught beginning algebra, and the course number was 1-A, and I gave one ďAĒ that semester. They were awfully poor students. I got an idea of what the high school math was like, and I donít remember teaching Math 1-A more than once. And then I went over and taught analytic geometry and calculus in the math department.
DeVorkin:Talking about Russell-Dugan-Stewart, in your first courses do you recall whether you followed the book closely or whether you had your own ideas as to how to present topics?
Huffer:R. D. & S.? I think I followed it pretty closely. I had to read it as carefully or more carefully than my students did. Thatís where I learned my astronomy. That was a good book. Thereís never been a better book written than R. D. & S. in astronomy in my opinion.
DeVorkin:What did you find the students were most interested in, in the general course? Did you do any observing?
Huffer:Yes, we had one meeting a week at the observatory, and we showed them the constellations and made them learn 15 and tested the students outside on a clear night. I donít know what they were most interested in; I suppose in the constitution of the universe, Iím not sure.
DeVorkin:They also had chapters on the constitution of stars and the evolution of stars.
Huffer:I donít think we did much on the evolution of stars. R. D. & S chapter on evolution was weak and didnít hold up.
DeVorkin:Was the question of evolution a difficult one to talk about in any way at that time?
Huffer:I donít think people really believed what they were being taught. I think itís only later, after I quit teaching astrophysics, that the ideas of evolution really developed.
Huffer:Well, if you asked me about elementary students at San Diego State, I could have told you very definitely what they were most interested in -- credit.
DeVorkin:Was that kind of an attitude the same at Wisconsin, or is this something new?
Huffer:I think itís something new at San Diego State. When I first came I decided that oh, the students arenít that much different. But later I found: hereís a student whoís doing ďBĒ work; ďIíve got to have an ďA.Ē And if he gets a ďC,Ē he wants a ďB.Ē And Iíve had a lot of students like that. But that didnít happen much at Madison. And then during those same years, I gave a course for a couple of years for the University Extension Division. Lectures in survey of astronomy. Now, they were really interested, those people.
DeVorkin:When was this?
Huffer:Well, that was 25 years ago, in the Ď50s. And a lot of those people joined the Madison Astronomical Society. Some of the people that were interested came to me and said, ďWe want to have a society,Ē so we invited them to come up to the observatory for their meetings once a month on a night when there were no classes, and it was a very active society for the 25 years I was there. Itís still in existence, but I donít think itís the same. We had the cream of the crop.
DeVorkin:Well, getting back to your research in the Ď30s, how did you see the direction of this kind of work, photoelectric photometry, going? Did you ever consider the possibility of observing stars fainter than 6th magnitude?
Huffer:Oh, yes, we could see it develop all the time. Now, one year Stebbins went out, I suppose it was to Mount Wilson, and that was the year we put Whitfordís amplifier into use.
DeVorkin:This is the early Ď30s?
Huffer:Yes, or the middle Ď30s. And when Stebbins came back, he said that he left with a 15-inch telescope and when he came back he had a 30-inch or whatever it was he said. In other words, we were able to go to just that much fainter stars. Now, this list of B stars that we didÖ
DeVorkin:Thatís the 1940 paper.
Huffer:Thatís 1940, yes. We did the bright stars in Madison, and by the time you get down even with the amplifier to the 7th, and 8th magnitude, the observations were not as accurate as they were for the brighter ones because of various factors. Iím pretty sure the atmosphere had something to do with that. And then in this list are some that we did at Mount Wilson I assume.
DeVorkin:You were using the 100-inch?
Huffer:Yes, and the 60-inch.
DeVorkin:Did you have problems with color corrections between using the reflector then and also using the refractor at Washburn and in matching the two?
Huffer:No, I donít think so.
DeVorkin:What were the filters?
Huffer:We used inch squares of glass. We tested, it seemed like, hundreds of them -- I guess there werenít that many -- First at Washburn there were only two colors, yellow and blue. But at Mount Wilson where they had a reflector, they could go to more of the ultraviolet and of the spectrum. That was 3-color and later 6-color photometry developed by Stebbins and Whitford.
DeVorkin:This is why I asked whether Stebbins was ever interested in having a reflector of his own so that he could work on three colors.
Huffer:Well, I donít think he really did, because I think he felt that the atmospheric conditions in the Madison area were not good enough, and that holds also for Yerkes because theyíre no better off. In fact, theyíre a little bit worse off than we were because they were just that much further south, and the nearer you go to Chicago, the more pollution there is.
DeVorkin:Did Stebbins ever become interested in leaving and going to a better site?
Huffer:I donít think so. Actually, he did visit some sites farther west of Madison.
DeVorkin:What kind of personality did he have? Could you give me some sort of a profile of Stebbins and your relationship with Stebbins?
Huffer:Elizabeth, can you give a profile of Stebbins? What was he like?
Mrs. Huffer:I could give you my slant. Well, Iíll tell you something that isnít a profile or too organized. He was a wonderful storyteller.
Huffer:Well, he was a wonderful man to work with because he left me alone. That is, heíd give me something to read in either English or German it didnít seem to make any difference; I had German in college, so I could read German up to a certain point -- but he left me to my own devices. As a host, he was a wonderful host; and Mrs. Stebbins was a most gracious lady. We used to go over there for dinners, and he and a certain professor in the physics department seemed to compete in who could tell the best story. They were both storytellers.
DeVorkin:Did he ever talk about Lick?
Huffer:I donít think so.
DeVorkin:These are stories fromÖ?
Huffer:Oh, just things heíd picked up. He was interested in music and plays, and operas, I guess. He told me that he had seen ďPorgy and Bess,Ē for example, which I had seen down in Chicago, and I remember him telling me that. He was interested in music. He always wanted me to play the piano for him, and he liked hymns. They had the directorís house on a hill, a big two-story house, beautifully furnished. I donít know. What else would I say about him?
DeVorkin:Well, your primary impressions of him: what kind of research?
Mrs. Huffer:Iíve had a chance to think now. I think the first impression that anybody gets of Stebbins is that heís in my opinion what I consider a real aristocrat. He doesnít push himself -- heís serene and calm and all that. But thereís something about that man that you feel heís not just an ordinary professor.
Huffer:That goes for Oliver J. Lee, too. They were good friends.
Mrs. Huffer:Whenever heíd come back from a trip, he always had a hoard of good stories to tell, and Iíll tell you a couple of them right now. Was it Mount Wilson that had that terrible road that had all the crooks in it and everything? And there was never an accident on it. Then they built a new modern road and they had a lot of accidents. And then he told about some visiting astronomers that came to one of those observatories with one of those great, powerful telescopes. What would it be? The 200-inch? And they were quite impressed with what they saw, and then they asked if they could take a look at the moon. And they couldnít get the moon in that telescope! They tried and they tried.
Huffer:I think that was the 100-inch. It couldnít have been the 200-inch.
Mrs. Huffer:Oh, the 100-inch. Well, anyway, they tried and they tried and they couldnít get the moon in the telescope. Now, I think thatís a good story, too. But he had a wry way of telling things, and if he were giving a talk, he couldnít help himself -- thereíd be something in there that would have a little twist to it that would be funny. Then as far as running the observatory, I never saw anybody run anything as smoothly as he ran that thing; in all the years you were under him, I donít think you came up against a single conflict.
Mrs. Huffer:Never. And as soon as somebody else got in there, all hell broke loose. I was telling this to some people when we were down -- was it here in San Diego that they had that meeting when I was taking the wives around?
Mrs. Huffer:And I happened to be praising Stebbins because I always praised Stebbins. I never had anything against him really. And these people, a couple of girls from Mount Wilson and someplace else out here were absolutely flabbergasted.
Mrs. Huffer:Lick. They said, ďI canít imagine a place like that, where everything was going smoothly and no conflicts.Ē The puzzlement on their faces was more than what they said.
DeVorkin:Why do you think things went so smoothly -- everyone was working on pretty much the same projects? Is that the reason?
Mrs. Huffer:Well, it was his innate aristocratic way of doing things. Now, mine isnít the movie concept. Mine is of a big man thatís sure of himself; he doesnít have to impress people. And oh, another thing he did: when he had students in class, he would spot the ones with ability and try to bring them out, and he was the one that spotted Whitford. Whitford didnít walk over there by himself.
DeVorkin:Thatís very interesting.
Mrs. Huffer:Yes, he did. When he saw somebody that had superior ability, he went to work on him. Now, thatís interesting. Right straight through. He wasnít supposed to be a very good teacher, but he had that gift for sensing people, and he never tried to impress you with his own ability at all.
DeVorkin:Thatís a very interesting profile of him.
Huffer:It would be pretty hard for me [to add anything]. I couldnít improve on this.
Mrs. Huffer:Well, I had a perspective. When youíre actually in something working in it, you donít see it from a long-range view. You just see that youíre not having conflicts; everything is going right. Everything that you do is appreciated and so on. But when you stand back a little bit, you can see that that man is -- well, the only word I can think of is aristocratic, and thatís not a very good one because weíve downgraded that word, havenít we?
DeVorkin:It has many different meanings. I have a few questions that would follow this up. Let me turn the tape over.
Mrs. Huffer:The one thing Iím amazed at my husband is that his memory is amazing now and mine is gone to the dust. I canít remember things at all. Iím taking cortisone all the time, and my son says that that hinders you.
DeVorkin:Can you remember your impressions at meeting your husband?
Mrs. Huffer:Well, he was in this class in mathematics. There were 15 of us -- two girls, one, I donít know. I may have been the only one.
DeVorkin:Which class was this?
Mrs. Huffer:This was the Theory of a Complex Variable. I was taking it for credit. I had a masterís in math.
DeVorkin:This was in Wisconsin.
Mrs. Huffer:It was in Wisconsin, and I was going on in advanced work, and back in 1928 there werenít many girls doing advanced work in anything. And so I was the only one. I donít remember my first impressions of him. I remember the impressions of the class, but our first date was to play golf, wasnít it, Morse?
Huffer:Yes. Stebbins was a good golf player.
Mrs. Huffer:But Morse was just one of the members (auditor) of the class, and Iíd gone out with several of them. I went out with any of them that asked me. I figured that those men, by the time they were working for their Ph.D.ís, were usually pretty solid people, and I enjoyed them. But there was something about Morse -- we just got along. There was another one that was more insistent, but I never told you that. He turned out to be a chemistry teacher. I canít remember his name now. Thatís my memory. But Morse was a perfect gentleman and I liked that.
Huffer:When did I get over it?
Mrs. Huffer:Well, you got over it fast enough.
DeVorkin:Did you know what you were getting yourself in for when you were going to marry a man who was going to be working at night all the time like that?
Mrs. Huffer:Oh, that didnít bother me in the least anymore than being up here in Alpine. We donít go out at night, and when I go back to Madison, they say, ďWell, what do you do?Ē I said, ďIíve got plenty of resources within myself.Ē I donít need to feel that Iíve got to have [company]. That didnít bother me. As a matter of fact, we turned things upside down. I learned to cook at night when he was gone. He slept in the morning and I didnít want to be noisy then, so we turned the day around. But you wanted my impressions of StebbinsÖ
DeVorkin:Sure. But also your impressions of life in Madison and how it was being married to an astronomer.
Mrs. Huffer:Well, I had been in academic circles for so long and I had taught three years and been out of them in a little place called Stevens Point. And I realized that (you donít want this stuff about me) the academic atmosphere was mine; I was much more comfortable with people like that, although others voice the complaint up here in Alpine that they didnít find any intellectual people to talk to. Well, I donít feel that way.
Huffer:Werenít all our friends either in the University or in the schools?
Mrs. Huffer:Sure. They were. I taught in the schools and they were there.
Huffer:We didnít have any friends outside of (it).
Mrs. Huffer:Well, I donít remember that too much. But I enjoy people who havenít any education at all. Sometimes I think theyíve got better brains. They werenít just copying or repeating something that theyíve read. They have some original ideas. I respect anybodyís ideas. But thatís neither here nor there. As far as thinking of him working at night -- I donít think I gave it a second thought. That was perfectly all right. You were doing something that was interesting, and that was it. And we have common things to talk about. But I can remember the first time we went to Stebbinsí house, probably for dinner, it was the first time I ever thought that I was really being entertained by royalty. They had this big house on the hill and everything was so ceremoniously done.
DeVorkin:He was formal. He was quite a formal person.
Mrs. Huffer:In a social situation he was formal.
Huffer:She was more so.
Mrs. Huffer:Oh, she was the one that did it. But he complied with it, and so that beautiful house with those high ceilings and everything and all the waitering. I was just overwhelmed there that first time I went there to eat. I think I was completely subdued -- I donít know. But that was the way they conducted things socially. Oh, another thing. You know, he wanted the Astronomy Department to be a separate entity and not in with the rest of Letters and Science.
DeVorkin:Why was this? This is interesting.
Huffer:Well, the astronomy department was entirely separate from the rest of the University -- I mean physically and administratively.
Mrs. Huffer:Well, for the spending of money.
DeVorkin:Where did the money come from?
Huffer:It came from grants from the state. It was in the University budget. But the astronomy budget was separate. Stebbins was also good at getting grants from other sources.
Mrs. Huffer:Ant it was not included in Letters and Science, which youíd normally think it would be.
DeVorkin:It was not in letters and science?
Mrs. Huffer:Yes, after he [Stebbins] retired, but he had a way of being very smooth in getting what he wanted. As long as he was there, no conflict. But he got his way and that stayed separate, completely independent.
DeVorkin:Did he get independent money, independent support?
Huffer:Yes, he did. Well, I canít tell you just where he got his grants, butÖ
Mrs. Huffer:He got them. He could finagle them out of people so that they didnít realize that they were being used. Itís a gift.
DeVorkin:Is this something like George Ellery Hale being able to convince people to build big telescopes?
Huffer:Yes, I guess so. Well, I think it was Whitford that got the 36-inch telescope.
DeVorkin:At Pine Bluff.
Huffer:Pine Bluff, yes.
DeVorkin:But that was quite a bit later.
Mrs. Huffer:Yes, and the town had grown.
Huffer:It was after Stebbins left, but it may have been in the works when Stebbins was still around -- I donít know about that.
Mrs. Huffer:And then as he grew older, I remember him being out there in Tucson. Didnít we go to a banquet where he talked?
Mrs. Huffer:He grew old gracefully, and he could still give a good speech.
Huffer:Yes, that was when he gave an after-dinner talk.
Mrs. Huffer:And if there was any underneath conflict in his domestic life, there was never a hint of it.
DeVorkin:So you donít know if there was.
Mrs. Huffer:Oh, well, I saw things that would normally upset some people, but as far as he went, it was just over the waves.
DeVorkin:So his personality and character was such that even though there may have been something wrong with a funding source or some disagreement with the University, he would never show it.
Mrs. Huffer:Never show it.
DeVorkin:He would never complain about it.
Mrs. Huffer:No. He would always be just fine on top. And then you get things, those kind of people. Unflappable would you call him? Now is that the new word?
Mrs. Huffer:Well, the more I think of him and the older I get, the more I realize that he was really a very exceptional person, and at the time you met him he didnít try to impress you as being that.
Huffer:Mrs. Stebbins and daughter Isabel belonged to the Bahai faith. I donít know whether you know anything about that or not.
Mrs. Huffer:And it didnít bother him in the least.
Huffer:No, he would always manage to be out of town when a Bahai member was going to stay in the Stebbins house.
Mrs. Huffer:And his son wasnít exactly whatÖ well, we wonít go into thatÖ
Mrs. Huffer:But thatís what I mean. Things that would happen, he just didnít discuss.
Huffer:In other words, Stebbins was a smooth operator.
DeVorkin:Was his son going to go into astronomy?
Mrs. Huffer:He went into law.
Huffer:Did you ask if his son was interested in going into astronomy?
Huffer:No, not a bit.
DeVorkin:Did Stebbins want him to go into astronomy?
Huffer:Oh, I donít think so.
Mrs. Huffer:Well, there you see thereís your smooth person again. If he ever did and if he was ever disappointed, there was never a hint of it.
DeVorkin:Did Stebbins ever talk in detail about the types of problems he wanted to attack with the telescope? He just let you do the problems you wanted to do?
Huffer:Well, like this B-star business, for example. He just said, ďWell, this is what weíre going to do.Ē You see, he had his contacts with Mount Wilson and Lick, and Iím sure they talked problems out there, which I never had the opportunity to do. I finally went on my own to do these eclipsing binary stars.
DeVorkin:How did you get interested in that?
Huffer:Well, I had observed Algol, for example. And Stebbins was the one that detected the secondary eclipse of Algol down at the University of Illinois. And when he came to Madison thatís one of the things we did: we observed Algol every fall, and there are lots of variables in that system. Well, then, among other things that we did: we had a list of stars that were known to be binary, spectroscopic binaries, and we tested them for possible variability. Most of them didnít vary, but some of them did.
DeVorkin:Did you calculate an ephemeris to try to predict when they might eclipse?
Huffer:Yes, right, we always did. And that was easy to do. Well, I discovered two new ones (eclipsing binaries) one week -- two days apart, I guess. And one of them was 21 Cass. And then there was another one.
DeVorkin:That was 1928.
Huffer:Yes. And then I observed Epsilon Aurigae, which is a long period binary. And I have a hunch that Iím the only person who has ever observed two eclipses of that star. They occur every 27 years, you know. But it was so irregular that you couldnít do much with it either. But I think thatís what interested me in eclipsing binaries. And I knew that we had the facilities to make very accurate light curves. I think Iíve got them here. [reaches for textbook -- Huffer, Trinklein and Bunge]
DeVorkin:This is your textbook.
Huffer:Yes. You know what Abell did, and his was the most successful astronomy book written recently. He had synthetic light curves. He just drew them and said, ďThis is the way it looks.Ē Whereas I published the actual curves. Letís see: binary stars. I donít know my own book.
DeVorkin:There was a copyright problem, wasnít there, between your book and Abellís book?
Huffer:Well, it was a little more complicated than that. We wrote our first book before Abell wrote his -- that is, Modern Space Science -- and we had various illustrations. And then when we wrote this Introduction to Astronomy, the publisher gave us permission to use what we wanted to out of Abellís and so we did and he had a fit.
Mrs. Huffer:Well, why donít you tell him what happened first?
Huffer:Well, whatís that?
Mrs. Huffer:You were surprised when you looked at Abellís book to find some of your pictures in it.
Huffer:Oh, yes. Abell had used 20 or so of our pictures.
Mrs. Huffer:That you had had to pay for.
Huffer:Yes, including -- not this edition. It has the color prints. Those were the first in any astronomy textbook to be published, and we got them from Bill Miller at Caltech. He had done them. And Abell copped them for his book and didnít get our permission at all.
DeVorkin:You were working for the same publisher -- both you and Abell.
Huffer:Yes. And they gave us permission to use any of his, so we used them.
Mrs. Huffer:(off mike) It was in writing, remember, Morse.
Huffer:Yes, it was in writing. And he was going to sue us, going to make us take them out of the book or something, and we had it in writing that we could use them from the publisher. So they paid him a couple of thousand dollars, and I guess that settled it.
Mrs. Huffer:After he had lifted them out of Morseís book and never even asked him. And you had to work off $20,000 before you got any royalties at all with the expense of all this that you had prepared.
Huffer:That was Modern Space Science.
Mrs. Huffer:And then when Morse wanted something from his book, I donít think youíd have wanted it so badly if he hadnít copped yours.
Huffer:Well, anyway he was an s.o.b. of the first order.
DeVorkin:Yes, thatís a sorry story. Here are the curves now.
Huffer:Yes, I was going to say: this star, AR Cassiopeiae, was what Stebbins had done down at Illinois: and the question arose about it. He said there was absolutely no evidence of darkening at the limb. Now, I got interested in darkening of the limb of stars because the sun is darker at the edge than it is at the middle, as you know, and so this was my light curve of the primary eclipse, and this is a secondary eclipse. I guess itís just drawn and the points scatter. But those are actual observations. And if there had been no darkening at the limb, it would have gone across like so. So thereís very definite evidence of limb darkening.
DeVorkin:Well, you can see itís a round bottom curve as opposed to a flat bottom.
DeVorkin:What methods of reduction did you use? Did you use Russellís rectification method?
Huffer:At first. For my thesis I used Russell. But that wasnít very usable, and I finally used Kopalís method.
DeVorkin:That was a little bit later. That was done later.
Huffer:Yes, Kopal was quite a bit later.
DeVorkin:What were the limitations of Russellís method?
Huffer:Oh, I canít tell you now. But it was not a mathematical solution. I guess weíd put it that way.
DeVorkin:Did you ever meet Russell?
DeVorkin:And talk to him about the binary stars?
Huffer:Yes, I talked to him. I went to Princeton. I was in New York, and I had an afternoon off and I went up to Princeton and talked to Russell for about an hour.
DeVorkin:What was the talk like?
Huffer:I couldnít tell you now what he thought I ought to do. I probably absorbed it and forgot about it. I didnít take any notes.
DeVorkin:When was this?
Huffer:Well, it was when I was working with Kopal. I suppose about around 1950. When did Russell die?
Huffer:Well, this was I think just two or three years before Russellís death.
DeVorkin:So you didnít meet him in the Ď20s or Ď30s.
Huffer:Well, I probably did because he attended the meetings of the American Astronomical Society. He always had something to say on every paper. He was a remarkable man, and I was glad to be able to talk to him there at the end, and Iím sorry I canít repeat any of it. Well, then I had a chance to go away once in a while, and I went to Tucson and worked at the Lowell Observatory at Flagstaff.
DeVorkin:I have it in the record here. I see that you went there in the mid Ď50s. Did you go there before that? Did you go in the Ď30s or Ď40s?
Huffer:I donít think so. And then I went to Kitt Peak.
DeVorkin:Yes, thatís recent.
Huffer:In Ď34, was it? And then I went to Mount Wilson, but I didnít do any observing except for the colors of stars. And I was also measuring the sky brightness, with the idea of trying to estimate the total brightness of the stars. Well, somebody else at that time had an automatic arrangement for doing that, and so I never did do anything with those results. But then I got to using Kopalís method and particularly that eventually resulted in that big paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement. On the use of the computer. I did this with George Collins and thatís the last thing I did.
DeVorkin:Yes, that was a big paper.
Huffer:But I started off to say that Kopal published some of my light curves in his book. Youíve probably seen the book.
DeVorkin:Close Binary Systems, yes.
Huffer:And he said he never saw as accurate observations, and I think this was the star, this AR Cass. You look at the scale: 5 hundredths of a magnitude. And the probable error is in the neighborhood of a hundredth of a magnitude.
DeVorkin:This is on page 362. Thatís a very, very shallow eclipse.
Huffer:A very shallow eclipse. It required very accurate observation. Iím pretty sure I did a good deal of this at Flagstaff.
DeVorkin:What was it like working at Flagstaff?
Huffer:Too cold. I had the use of their 21-inch telescope, and I was out there twice as a matter of fact. The first time I went by myself, the second time Elizabeth went with me. And we had an apartment up on the mountain. The first time I had to live down below. I had to have a car, and so she didnít have a car that month or two that I was gone that winter. Cold, yes. But this was the darndest telescope Iíve ever worked with. It was a good telescope all right, but the observatory building itself, the dome, was a practically circular series of benches, letís say. It was built up in several different levels, so the telescope was maybe on one side and the recorder -- and I was always chasing from one side to the other, and it was just deadly. There was never anything except clear nights up there, of course.
DeVorkin:Incidentally, did you meet the Sliphers?
Huffer:Yes, I met the Sliphers, and I also met Clyde Tombaugh up there. See, that was about the time that Earl C. Slipher, the younger one, had been down to Africa to observe Mars, so I heard a good deal about that.
DeVorkin:Did he and his brother ever talk about their history of the study of Mars? I mean V. M. Slipher had been studying Mars since the turn of the century.
Huffer:I donít know that I ever talked to them about it. I knew Earl better than I did V. M. I donít know what his name was.
Huffer:They called his office the counting house. And he was the Czar.
DeVorkin:Why was that? He was the kind?
Huffer:I guess, yes. He had all the money. He was a very wealthy man.
Huffer:V. M. was. Whether Earl was, I donít know.
DeVorkin:What was that from?
Huffer:Well, he owned a lot of Flagstaff. I think he owned the hotel and I donít know what else.
DeVorkin:This was money he made while he was there then.
Huffer:I suppose. Well, Flagstaff I guess must have grown from the time he went there.
DeVorkin:What kind of a person was Earl and how did they treat each other?
Huffer:I donít think they had much to do with each other. I never saw any evidence of that. I knew them individually, and I never did talk to V. M. very much, but I knew Earl more. Very likeable fellows as I remember, but I havenít a very good memory about that.
DeVorkin:Okay. Letís go back to Washburn again and the late Ď20s. You mentioned that you were taking some physics courses and you were interested in amplification. Was this before Whitford came?
Huffer:Yes, thatís when we first went there.
DeVorkin:Was it more the feeling that youíd rather do astronomical work or what that kept you from that?
Huffer:Well, I never did like physics. I had four years of physics at Albion College, and I had the same professor four years and I didnít like it at all. And I was supposed to have physics for a minor at the University of Illinois, but I had a course in astronomy and expected to do physics later, and I never did take a course in physics there at Illinois. I was only there the one year.
DeVorkin:What books do you recall reading early on in the Ď20s and the teens?
DeVorkin:Yes, other than Russell-Dugan & Stewart.
Huffer:Well, I was trying to think. Oh, yes. We had a big book on variable stars, Die Verandlichen, if I remember the name of it. And I donít remember who wrote it, but that was the German authority in those days I guess. Well, we had a very good library there. A little after the observatory was founded in 1878, and along in 1880, 1882, there was a friend of Washburn that gave them $5000 to found an observatory library. Well, that was real money in those days, and so we had a very good library, and I used to read a lot. Well, I liked the history of astronomy and the people that were written about. We had, for example, a book about the moon that was dated 1570 or something like that. Probably 1670 because it had drawings that had to be from telescopic observations.
DeVorkin:1570 was about the time of Tycho.
Huffer:Yes, it must have been after the invention of the telescope. My memory isnít good enough to remember those titles anymore.
DeVorkin:Thatís okay. Iím interested mainly in 19th century or early 20th century texts. Did you have any books on spectroscopy, Schemerís books?
Huffer:Yes, we had Scheiner. That was in German, wasnít it?
DeVorkin:Yes, but Frost translated it.
Huffer:Oh. Well, I think we probably had the German edition.
DeVorkin:Did you read Eddington at all?
Huffer:Oh, yes. I read Eddington. Well, you name them -- I read them, I guess.
DeVorkin:Yes. At least by the time you got to Washburn, they had a full library with the and all the representative journals.
Huffer:Right. The Astronomical Journal, and Popular Astronomy, Science, British journals, Nature, etc.
DeVorkin:Well, this is a good place to stop the second tape. Okay, weíre recording. This is Tape 3.
Huffer:Well, I think that Gerry Kron first came as a student in my elementary astronomy class, and he was an engineer, and he built a telescope, and thatís where he got started in astronomy.
DeVorkin:When did this happen?
Huffer:Oh, no. Youíre always asking me things. How could I date that? It must be around 1930.
DeVorkin:This is Gerry Kron. And he had a background in engineering?
Huffer:Yes, I think he got his masterís degree in engineering and built this telescope as an engineering project.
DeVorkin:And so pretty much Kron and Whitford came at the same time.
DeVorkin:What was the atmosphere like in the department at that time so far as research and studentsí contact with you and with Joel Stebbins?
Huffer:Well, I canít remember that Gerry did any research. We did have student assistants. In the good old days it was a two-man job, and you had to have somebody to operate the telescope and somebody to read the scale. But we just hired from the student employment office I think, for night work. We had one fellow named Viadimere Rimsky-Korsakov, for example.
Huffer:Yes, he was a nephew of Tchaikovsky, and he used to tell me how his grandmother was the richest woman in Russia. I donít know how he figured that. I understood that after he graduated he went to Washington as a translator.
DeVorkin:But how did the students get along themselves? How were they organized? Did you give exams and that sort of thing?
Huffer:No, I never did. There was Olin Eggen -- have you got him on your list? That was after the war, so that would be in Ď46 probably right after the war. He had been a student at Wisconsin before he went into the war. He came out a captain, I think. And the first semester he was in school after he came back, he lost 50 pounds; so only weighed about 375 after that.
DeVorkin:I didnít realize he was that large.
Huffer:He was an awfully big fellow, yes. I donít know whether he was working on his own or whether he had an appointment of some kind. But he was a tremendous worker, also eater. If I had a little snack in my desk drawer one night, the next day it was gone and I didnít eat it. Yes, Elizabeth says that he came over to our house one time, and she had just made some doughnuts and she had about a dozen on a plateÖ
Huffer:Fifteen, and Olin ate them all.
Mrs. Huffer:He just wolfed them down. I turned around and looked and they were gone.
DeVorkin:How were they as students -- Whitford and Kron and Eggen?
Huffer:How were they as students?
DeVorkin:Yes. Did you train them with the telescope or anything?
DeVorkin:What was your contact with them?
Huffer:Just in class. I could find my classbooks on that. See, Whitford had his doctorís degree in physics before he came.
DeVorkin:Right, so he wasnít really a student.
Huffer:He wasnít a student.
DeVorkin:But he had to learn some astronomy.
Huffer:Yes. And Gerry Kron had his masterís degree in engineering and I think that he went to Lick pretty soon after he got his Ph.D. Maybe he was with us a year. And then he went to Lick and got his doctorís degree out there. And Eggen -- I think he got his Ph.D. with us, but I didnít have much to do with him. I may have had him in astrophysics.
DeVorkin:What was their attitude as they were coming into astronomy there and how did you feel about their interests? -- definitely applying physics and engineering to astronomy.
Huffer:Well, Iím afraid I canít answer that kind of a question. My feeling about those students was that they were just students. I knew that Gerry had ability, and I had another fellow in class at the same time, and he would write about a ďBĒ examination and I knew he was worth an ďA.Ē So I gave him a paper to write or a report to make so I could give him an ďAĒ.Ē It eased my conscience I guess. I canít think of his name. Dave Parkinson.
DeVorkin:Did he turn out to be an astronomer?
Huffer:No, what he did later than that, I donít know. But he was one of the inventors of the gadgets that tracked airplanes during the war. They said that he had an office where one had to go through several gates to get into it. It was hush-hush, as you can imagine it would be, working on a gadget for tracking airplanes. Who else did we have? Well, Eggen, of course -- I worked with him more. Of course, he had his desk in my office. Well, he helped me write some of those papers. In fact, I think he engineered some of them. I had the observations and he went ahead and worked them up.
DeVorkin:I know that you did some papers together with him.
DeVorkin:What are your recollections of the changes that went on at the observatory?
Huffer:Well, there were no changes in the observatory itself, but instrumentally the changes were to change from the string electrometer to the Lindemann electrometer and then finally through amplification we used the galvonometer some of the time after that, and then we got the 1P21 photo-multiplier. Then we got the automatic recorders. So after that it was a one-man operation.
DeVorkin:Before the lP2lís, didnít Whitford make a number of photo-multiplier mockups at Washburn?
Huffer:Well, it wasnít photomultiplier, I donít think youíd call it, but he amplified the photoelectric current, yes. And I told you he put it in the vacuum to make it work.
DeVorkin:He made what weíd call internal amplifiers.
DeVorkin:This greatly reduced the noise?
Huffer:Yes. Well, it made it possible to work on fainter stars. See, I said that when I first went there the 6th magnitude was about as faint as we could go with the 15-inch. And it was only after we got the 1P21 and with the automatic recorder, the Brown recorder, that we worked on the fainter stars. I was pretty much running my own show on teaching. Well, during the war we had navy students.
DeVorkin:You taught them navigation?
Huffer:We taught navigation. We could only handle about 20 students at a time, so Stebbins had a class of about 40 and we split it into two sections. He had one and I had the other. And thatís when I really learned navigation. You learn by having to do it from teaching.
DeVorkin:Did the courses of instruction change after the war?
Huffer:No, I donít think so. I developed my own method of teaching, I think. I certainly didnít learn it from Stebbins. Whitford set up Astronomy 1, a 5-credit course with lab experiments. I taught it only once. I liked Astronomy 17 better - 3 credits.
DeVorkin:Iím looking here at a list of people who were at the observatory as best we can determine, and I know that after the war Stebbins was still director?
DeVorkin:How long was he director?
Huffer:Well, he was there from Ď22 until he was 70. That would be Ď48.
DeVorkin:It seems as though Whitford came in about Ď48, Ď49 as director.
Huffer:Yes, he came in after Stebbins.
DeVorkin:Was the department consulted at all about Stebbinsí replacement? Did Stebbins make any suggestions?
Huffer:I think Stebbins recommended Whitford. Whitford was a good gadgeteer, but as an administrator he didnít have very much ability to judge people, for example.
DeVorkin:What happened with the change? Did the department change?
Huffer:Oh, yes. We then were absorbed into the College of Letters and Science, and so anything that was done had to be through the dean of the College of Letters and Science. I didnít have anything to do with that ever. I hardly ever went to a faculty meeting because the meetings were not of any interest to me or any affair of mine. I didnít go. Well, then fortunately Whitford was offered the directorship of the Lick Observatory, and so he left and Code took over then.
DeVorkin:Well, if Iím correct here, letís see: Code came at about the same time Whitford became director, in about Ď48.
Huffer:No, I donít think so.
DeVorkin:Heís listed here as a research associate between Ď48 and Ď49. Was he there about that time?
Huffer:Ď48 and Ď49? When did Don Osterbrock go there? Elizabeth? Did Code come while Whitford was still director?
Mrs. Huffer:I donít remember. I would have thought so, yes. But heís dreamy eyed and doesnít care for anything but research, does he?
Huffer:I donít think so.
DeVorkin:Osterbrock must have been there a lot later.
Huffer:Yes. I would say Osterbrock came about a year before we left. That would be Ď60.
DeVorkin:But I know that Code was there through the Ď50s, and Iím just trying to find out how the department changed under Whitford and if there were differences in the direction of the department and their interests. Of course, during the Ď30s and Ď40s with you and Stebbins, the primary interest was in the development of photoelectric techniques and the variable stars. And how did things change under Whitford?
Huffer:Well, we got the new observatory out at Pine Bluff. Code was there, because he developed a spectrograph to attach to the 36-inch there. Then about that time they got a smaller telescope, and I think that Osterbrock got a little photographic telescope -- a 5-inch or something like that -- and he was interested in photographing nebulae or galaxies and things like that.
DeVorkin:This is Code?
Huffer:Osterbrock. He didnít get to be director. Code has been director ever since, and then Osterbrock has been at Lick now for about three or four years.
Mrs. Huffer:Osterbrock wrote that article about the connections between Lick and Washburn.
Huffer:Yes. [Added later: The residence of the astronomer was originally built by a Professor Reid as his home. When Watson became Director, it was taken over for the residence of the Director of the Observatory. For some years before that, it had been the residence of the President of the University. When Stebbins retired, it was taken over by the University for the UW Journalism Department and probably other uses. The Observatory was taken over by the Department of Humanities, but the telescope was left in place to be used for visitors and astronomy classes. I have no direct knowledge of how much it has been used since 1961. Then a new wing was built onto the Physics Building, Sterling Hall. The astronomy department was given the top (6th) floor and the roof. On the 6th floor were faculty offices, a large room for the library and a laboratory room; also a room for the department shop. On the roof were three domes. One was for a new Spitz planetarium, one for the old 6-inch telescope and the third for a new Japanese telescope, 12-1/2Ē I think. This wing was badly damaged in a bomb explosion in about 1970 during the student demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. The astronomy library was badly damaged, but few books were lost and it has been completely restored.]
DeVorkin:Yes, an interesting article.
Huffer:But there isnít much detail.
DeVorkin:No, Iím interested in filling in some of that detail, at least in relationships. Anything you could recall would be very interesting and helpful. There certainly is a very well-defined association there.
DeVorkin:Did you do anything other than teaching during World War II? Were you involved in the war effort at all?
Huffer:I had a leave of absence for a few months and went out to Badger Ordnance. I worked in the architectís office as a computer, and that was about 40 miles from Madison, and I drove back and forth. I rode in a car pool, I guess youíd call it. I donít think I contributed anything to that. I canít think of anything else. You see, my relations with Code and Osterbrock were pretty nebulous.
DeVorkin:How about with Whitford?
Huffer:Well, also. Well, I know one thing, that he gave me the job as lecturer when we got the planetarium, and I think I gave 60 lectures that year mostly to high school kids and people interested. It was a very poor planetarium.
DeVorkin:Where was it?
Huffer:It was not in the observatory because they didnít have room for it. It was in one of the engineering buildings.
DeVorkin:Were you interested in the planetarium at that time?
Huffer:No, and I wasnít after I got through. You remember the one we had at San Diego State. Did you see the original one that was there before the present one? Well, that one that we had at Madison was worse than that. The projector was all right, but we had a canvas dome and it was crowded and in a cold room. What finally finished me off was that there was a fellow that was a teacher in a grade school in Madison. Iíd had him as a student in class some years before, and he asked me one time to demonstrate it to his students. And it was after hours, I think -- five oíclock in the afternoon, something like that. Well, I did it and maybe I did it twice, but when it got to be a perennial affair I said I wouldnít do it anymore. So thatís the last I saw of him. But I didnít feel that was really part of my job. Oh, and another thing that I did, for 30 years I guess, was to run visitorsí nights. Part of the agreement with Governor Washburn was that the telescope should be available to the public, and so on the first and third Wednesday nights of every month if the sky was clear, we had open house for the public, and I ran that until I guess we moved out of the observatory building, and after Whitford got to be director, I just kind of faded out. I just didnít go. I didnít get along with Whitford at all.
DeVorkin:Why do you think that was?
Huffer:Why? Well, because of our personalities I guess.
DeVorkin:Was his way of doing science or directing different than Stebbinsí?
Huffer:Yes. Well, as I said, he was a good gadgeteer, but he had no ability for handling people. Now, Iíll give you one illustration.
Mrs. Huffer:Iíll tell you something, too.
Huffer:We had set up a little engineering department, a little machine shop. I donít remember just how he advertised for somebody for the job. And he selected somebody who turned out to be absolutely worthless. And then finally we got an older man, and he was fine -- he lasted for quite a while. But that was just a matter of Whitford not having the ability to judge the personality of this fellow.
Mrs. Huffer:Well, Morse didnít get along with Whitford, and when he left there, it was a very chilly meeting. And for the first two or three years if we met anywhere, it was this way [stiff]. And then finally there was a complete overturn. It was after Iíd talked to these girls down there in San Diego, you know, and he found out that Morse was small potatoes compared to some of them when they jumped on him, and theyíve been terribly friendly ever since.
Huffer:Whatís this about small potatoes?
DeVorkin:I donít understand what you mean.
Mrs. Huffer:Well, when he was fighting with Morse -- I mean when that thing came alongÖ
Huffer:Just call it a personality conflict.
Mrs. Huffer:A personality conflict, but you could tell that neither one cared for the other; and there was this thing between them. And then when he got down there [Lick] -- I think Gerry Kron was one of them -- but when he had this thing of abrasive personality and tried it on some other people, he really got into trouble.
DeVorkin:Where was this?
Mrs. Huffer:At Lick.
Huffer:Well, he and Gerry had a big fight, too.
DeVorkin:When was that?
Huffer:When Whitford was director at Lick.
Mrs. Huffer:I think there were several of them, because, you see, these girls that I talked to -- they couldnít understand it; they never heard of a place where people arenít fighting like cats and dogs. And then he began to appreciate Morse.
Mrs. Huffer:Whitford. And there was a turnabout and they wrote letters. Theyíd send us a Christmas card and Eleanor would write a long friendly letter, and theyíd see us and youíd think we were their long lost relatives. They were awful glad to see us again. They just turned around completely. They found out that Morse was pretty good compared to what they could run into.
DeVorkin:What were the differences?
Huffer:I just canít tell you, but it was little things. Well, Iíll give you one example. He was elected president of the scientific honorary society, Sigma Xi. And so he wanted a secretary. So he brought the secretary up, and where do you suppose he put her desk -- right in my office, without asking me. And she was an awful talker and she annoyed me no end. And one day when both of them I guess were gone, and with the help of somebody else, I moved her desk out into the hall, where she should have been put in the first place. She said nothing; he said nothing. But thatís the way he did things. I wasnít going to bring all this up, butÖ
DeVorkin:Well, itís important if it affected the science at Washburn. How do you think science changed at Washburn under Whitford?
Huffer:Well, thatís a good question. In the first place they got that 36-inch telescope, and Code built his spectrograph for it. And I think that probably they worked together. This spectrograph -- Iím not quite sure that I remember -- was a sort of combination of spectrum and absorption device. And I think they must have worked together on that. When you worked at night, you have your own hours, and I had my nights assigned to me -- I guess I had some selection of what night I had because I was depending on the light curve of a binary star, for example. So I didnít see these other fellows. They were using the telescope when I wasnít and the other way around. I always liked Code and like Osterbrock still better. I wrote Don when I knew he was going to be director at Lick. Heís the third from the Washburn Observatory, you know. There was Holden and Whitford and Osterbrock. And I think that Osterbrock is going to be [the best]. I donít know what heís doing because they have to live down there in Santa Cruz, but certainly things are running more smoothly than they did.
DeVorkin:Does he talk to you about that?
Huffer:No. I donít see him very often, certainly copies of his Wisconsin-California Axis paper. In fact, I think I helped him with that in one or two spots. Letís see: was it Code? They came to us from the AC Sparkplug Company in Milwaukee and wanted somebody to give a course in celestial mechanics over there.
DeVorkin:When was this?
Huffer:I donít know why they did it, but I would guess letís see: itís about the time we got our Diesel, about 1955, somewhere along in there. So I was the one that was elected to do that, and I think I gave three different courses for them. Had to drive over to Milwaukee, got home after midnight.
DeVorkin:Thatís quite a long drive. 100 miles.
Huffer:That was tough. And then I was giving lectures for the Extension Division. They wanted somebody. Well, I gave a course of lectures over in Racine, for example, and then various other places in Wisconsin. It was in Racine that I met Fred Trinklein. He and I wrote later Modern Space Science.
DeVorkin:Why donít we move onto the time when you were the secretary of the AAS.
DeVorkin:And your experiences there.
Huffer:Yes. Well, I was elected without being consulted about it. I forget whether the secretary got sick or died. Anyway, they were going to be without a secretary if they didnít move pretty fast, and so the council had two choices. One was -- not a photoelectric man but a variable star man in the East, I canít think of his name right now -- and me. And I won by a plurality of one. Well, itís a good thing they didnít take this other man because he died within a year or two.
DeVorkin:Newton Pierce was the other person?
Huffer:Newton Pierce. And why they selected me, I donít know. But it was all right with me. I was glad to be able to do it. And our first meeting was at Harvard. I mean the first meeting after I got to be secretary.
DeVorkin:What were your duties?
Huffer:Well, I had to do the corresponding about making meeting arrangements. The host at the meeting site always made the arrangements, and I collected the titles of the papers and put them together and had a program printed, took notes of the actions of the council and wrote up the minutes of the council meetings, things like that, what the secretary does.
DeVorkin:Youíre in close contact with a lot of people and so many times when there are differences of opinion or questions as to how meetings will be conducted, you know what the problems are.
Huffer:Well, there werenít very many problems because those things are pretty much cut and dried. Itís a lot more complicated now than it was when I was secretary. Membership has tripled or quadrupled, and I didnít have any secretarial help. I used the observatory secretary to do whatever had to be done; what I couldnít do myself. And I arranged and attended 18 meetings in the nine years I was secretary, traveled all over the country from Boston to Pasadena and Victoria to Nashville, just to give you a few of them.
DeVorkin:So you had a pretty good overview of what was happening in astronomy during this period.
Huffer:Yes. And I think I probably heard most of the papers. I may not have heard them all, but I made it a point of sitting in on them.
DeVorkin:How was astronomy changing during that period? What were some of the new problems coming in?
Huffer:Well, I think astronomy expanded like the universe. All the changes were from local to enormous, big galaxies. Well, the presidents during that time, for example; H. Shapley was one, and Iíd have to look at the list to see who else -- R. McMath. There must have been at least six different presidents. D. Menzel was elected just as I was retiring, so I didnít have much to do with him. I also had to collect the ballots for the vote on officers and the nominating committee and things of that sort.
DeVorkin:You did attend council meetings and that sort of thing.
DeVorkin:How were they run? Did each president have his own unique way of running these meetings or were they pretty uniform?
Huffer:Oh, they were pretty much cut and dried. I had the list of things to be discussed and I told the president what I wanted, and that was just about it.
DeVorkin:Did it make any difference who was the president of the society? Were there any new policy decisions that were ever made?
Huffer:I donít think so. I think that during my time as secretary we did eliminate the life member status. So knowing that was coming, I quick got to be a life member, and it has certainly paid off financially for me. Then I turned over the records to J. A. Hynek who followed me as secretary.
DeVorkin:Oh, Hynek followed you. Letís see, he was between you and Laurence Fredrick then.
Huffer:Yes. There may have been somebody else in there.
DeVorkin:Fredrick has been secretary for 17 years now or something, now.
DeVorkin:I think so. Letís see: when were you secretary?
Huffer:I was secretary from Ď46 to Ď55. So thatís 20 years ago? F. Edmondson was treasurer for those 9 years and longer.
DeVorkin:Yes. And Fredrick was secretary from about 1960 on. Hynek was in the middle. From that year, Ď46, was there any reorganization necessary after World War II with people coming back? Was the AAS involved at all?
Huffer:Oh, well, we did have meetings at the site of the AAAS meetings occasionally. But we didnít like it very well because those were so big. So I donít think we did it more than two or three times while I was secretary. But I donít think there was any reorganization. Of course, we had to elect members of the national committees like the IAU.
DeVorkin:Thatís true. Were there ever any difficulties with choices? Did some people have people they wanted to support for membership and theyíd sit down and argue about it.
Huffer:No, I donít think so. I had a couple of amateurs elected to membership one time. I probably shouldnít have done it. They didnít turn out to beÖ Well, they knew when they came in that they were just supporting the society -- thatís all -- so they werenít going to present any papers, for example. So I didnít have any hesitation to recommend that they be elected. I did go to several of the IAU meetings, not because I had to but because it was a chance to go to Europe. I went to London, Rome and to Dublin, and afterwards, of course, we went to Berkeley.
DeVorkin:Letís move on then. The main line of your research, of course, has been the analysis of eclipsing binary stars.
Huffer:I would say that was the main thing I did by myself, and of course, I was working with Stebbins in the colors of ďBĒ stars and the variability of the red stars. I never thought that red star work was a very great contribution, but Cecelia Payne Gaposchkin made a remark to me one time, something about it being a good piece of research. But it did show that there was a difference between the denser red stars and the more diffuse red stars. But I thought our main contribution was in the absorption of light in space. I think that was a good program.
DeVorkin:This was Stebbinsí interest.
Huffer:Yes. But I think he was gone and I presented that at a meeting of the society one time, because I had discovered (I think this is the way it was) that there was a relation between the reddening of these ďBĒ stars and their location with respect to the Milky Way. I donít think that Stebbins knew exactly what to expect from that, and Iím not sure that I was the one that detected it, but I think I presented it to the society.
DeVorkin:Was this in the Ď30s?
Huffer:The ďBĒ stars, the reddening of the ďBĒ stars?
DeVorkin:I have it here. That was in 1940 -- 1332 ďBĒ Stars. That was Stebbins, Huffer and Whitford, ApJ 91 (1940) page 20. Yes, that was the one you had done all through the decade pretty much.
Huffer:Yes, that took a long time, that 1300. Is there a diagram in here?
DeVorkin:Well, at that time, of course, the existence of interstellar absorption and everything was just being detected by Trumpler?
Huffer:Yes, Trumpler is the one who suggested the research to Stebbins.
DeVorkin:I see. Did he do this in correspondence, do you know?
Huffer:No, I think he did it in person. I told you that Stebbins went out to California summers, and so now that you mention Trumplerís name -- I know thatís who it was. Well, the best thing would be a diagram. I donít know if we have a diagram. Can I draw on the back of this?
Huffer:If you think of the Milky Way as something like this [as you go down towards Sagittarius, it gets wider], and everything that was outside of a certain limit, all of these ďBĒ stars were blue, just as they were supposed to be. And then as you go from stars in the Milky Way and you go in this direction [toward the galactic center], they get redder. And we found ďB stars down in here that were as red as an ďMĒ star. Maybe we mention them here.
DeVorkin:Basically you found reddening as a function of galactic latitude.
Huffer:Galactic latitude and longitude, and also distance. But I donít know if we could plot up the distances.
DeVorkin:No, that was difficult to do. Of course, that was some years before spiral structure came in, associating ďOĒ and ďBĒ stars with spiral arms. What was your interest in the developments in astrophysics during the Ď20s and Ď30s?
Huffer:Yes. We, as I said, I learned it from Russell-Dugan-Stewart, and I think that in later years anyway -- I canít go back that early -- my students were as much interested in the projected history of the sun as anything, that the sun is building up a helium core and so forth. But that was Sandage, wasnít it, at Mount Wilson and Palomar?
DeVorkin:And Schwarzschild. That was 1952. But the developments in the Ď2Os and of course starting with Russellís book, people didnít know which way stars evolved.
Huffer:No, they didnít.
DeVorkin:And Iím wondering what your impressions of stellar evolution and cosmology were at that time.
Huffer:Well, just like everybody else, I said, ďLetís wait and see.Ē No, I think that when Sandage announced this -- he came to Madison and gave a talk early in the game -- that was a kind of shot out of the blue. We didnít expect anything like that. And Iím sure that is correct.
DeVorkin:This is 1952.
Huffer:Yes, so that I think that was probably the most astounding new development in my career in astronomy. The discovery of helium burning.
DeVorkin:The 3α process. What about in the late Ď30s with Betheís carbon cycle and that sort of thing? Did that impress you?
Huffer:Oh, the carbon cycle. Oh, yes. Yes, thatís another one. I thought I had someplace Cecelia Gaposchkinís cartoon. Youíve seen that.
DeVorkin:Iíve seen those, yes. She had little atoms running around.
Huffer:Yes. In fact, I think I heard her talk about that one time when we were at Harvard.
DeVorkin:Did you have much contact with the Gaposchkins?
Huffer:No, just at meetings. Well, of course, I was there at Harvard for a few months. But I donít know whether we used that or not. You mentioned Jan Oort earlier this morning. Now, I always had a great deal of respect for Oort and liked some of his things.
DeVorkin:Oh, he certainly is an extremely important figure in astronomy. Did you ever have any contact with him?
Huffer:Yes, not scientifically, but we went to the (Mrs. Huffer can tell you this better than I can) IAU. I think it was the Hamburg meeting, and at one of the dinners they had tables for six, and we were at one table and somebody came along -- I think it was J. J. Nassau and Mrs. Nassau. He was treasurer of the American Astronomical Society and I was the secretary at that time. And then the next person that came and joined us was Sir Harold Spencer Jones, and the last one was Oort. This is not the exact order. Elizabeth says: Nassaus, then Sir Harold, then Oort.
Mrs. Huffer:Iíve got a fine story to tell. When Sir Harold Spencer Jones came and visited in our country, with a title like that, all the people went nuts, and we all entertained him to the top of our ability. We had him at a big dinner party, and they were just wonderful. All right. I went over to England in 1952 after that, and naturally having entertained the Spencer-Joneses, and wanting to find out what that area was like and how they were living, I mentioned it and they had us for lunch. And I could tell, I could sense, that she was just a little bit resentful. She was nice and Jim was with me, and they had some young sons and he went with them and all. The interesting thing was that Jim had a job that summer, and they asked him how much he was going to make and it sounded quite good to them. These were the sons of Sir Harold Spencer Jones asking our son, and I never saw such longing in all my life, in the expression on those kids. They wished that they could get a job, and they were in such a situation where it wouldnít be possible not to demean their parents if they took a job. Isnít that interesting?
Mrs. Huffer:Well, then in Ď55 I told Morse when we went over there -- werenít the meetings in England or something? Where were they?
Huffer:Could have been in Dublin.
Mrs. Huffer:They were in Dublin, but there was something up north where Kopal was.
Huffer:Oh, yes, the dedication of a radio observatory or something like that. Kopal was in Manchester.
Mrs. Huffer:Yes. And we met Sir Harold someplace in Germany; Hamburg. Something came up and they said something about going over to visit the Herstmonceaux Castle, and I made a point of saying, ďWeíre not going over there.Ē
Huffer:No, they had an open house at Herstmonceaux.
Mrs. Huffer:Thatís it. And we wouldnít go.
Mrs. Huffer:Well, the way she acted there in Ď52, I made up my mind ďYou donít need to think Iím going to come back and just be fawning over you all the time. Iím not going to have it.Ē And so we told them we werenít coming. And it was after that that poor Sir Harold Spencer Jones made a great point of being friendly towards me. He came up and asked if he couldnít have dinner with us, and Morse was flabbergasted. And then you got nervous and you went around and asked Oort to come, too. But I think they were so grateful to find out two Americans that werenít going to go crawling over them at that open house is the only thing I can think of. It was after he knew that we werenít coming that he did that.
DeVorkin:What were your recollections of Oort? Were you good friends with Oort?
Mrs. Huffer:Well, we didnít know him well enough. I just had a great respect for him.
Huffer:Oh, I had seen Oort from time to time.
Mrs. Huffer:Yes, he was just a scientist that you would respect, and there was nothing about his personality thatÖ
Huffer:Wasnít he president of the IAU or secretary, one of the two? Both? First secretary, then president.
Mrs. Huffer:And he played the part. I mean I wouldnít say that there was anything about him that I didnít like, or respect.
Huffer:Oh, I thought he was a great astronomer.
Mrs. Huffer:I thought he was very good, but I mean there was nothing that I could tell you now that would stand out.
Mrs. Huffer:Oh, I had one other thing to tell you about Stebbins I donít think we did. And that was all the smoothness of the running of that observatory and everybody doing their work and being happy and contented and inspired and what all. There was one time when there was great exhilaration, I would think the word would be, and I can remember Stebbins coming in and you saying, too: ďWe shrunk the universe!Ē He had found out these obscuring clouds and that people thought the stars were so much further away and it was because they were going through this obscuring material and they were much closer than they thought they were. And he was absolutely jubilant to think that he had made a discovery.
Huffer:Yes, he and Shapley were quite rivals. Shapley had got the length of the galaxy as 200,000 light years and Stebbins got it at 100,000.
Mrs. Huffer:And, of course, Stebbins was right. But he was absolutely jubilant. You would go into that observatory and there was just a feeling of exhilaration. He had made a milestone and he knew it.
Huffer:Speaking of Shapley, I was there at Harvard and MIT when McCarthy listed Shapley on his list of Communists. Remember that?
DeVorkin:How did Shapley react to that?
Huffer:Well, he didnít like it at all, but Mrs. Shapley was working in the office where I was, down at MIT. I was working with Kopal and I donít know what she was doing, and she says, ďWell, I donít think heís a Communist. I pay all the bills and I donít pay any Communist dues.Ē So before I left, they had me give a seminar of some sort in which I talked about what I was doing, I guess, and I ended up by saying that I didnít believe what McCarthy said and I was going home and vote against him.
DeVorkin:Right. He came from Wisconsin, sure. Thatís interesting. Well, upon your retirement from Wisconsin, you came out here. How did that come about?
Huffer:Very simply explained. Did you know Clifford Smith? He was head of the department when you were here.
Huffer:Well, he had written to me asking me to help him find somebody to fill a vacancy in the astronomy department, and I suggested two or three graduate students at Wisconsin and they all turned it down. So one day I was just about through with this big paper with George Collins and I was writing him a letter, and I was sitting in my office in Sterling Hall -- weíd moved over to there by that time. Clouds were coming in from the Northwest and I knew I wouldnít be working that night, and I added a post script: ďI was hoping youíd make me an offer.Ē And it wasnít more than two days and I got a reply back: ďIíve seen President Love, and weíre appointing you with the rank of full professor.Ē So thatís how I happened to come out. Well, I was tired of the weather out there in Madison, letís say, and there was an opportunity to get away from the department. Iíd been there 39 years and nothing to do but teach, which Iíd always liked. So I decided Iíd go. I have a daughter living in Chula Vista. That helped. But I tell you: that Astronomy 2 -- was that the laboratory course? I had one section of that, and I couldnít stand it. And I told Cliff after I got through that semester that I didnít come out to California to teach that course and to give me something else.
DeVorkin:Was Bert Nelson here already?
Huffer:Yes, he was there. In fact, I donít remember just when he got his degree. He had to go back to Madison to take his final examinations.
DeVorkin:The philosophy of science.
Huffer:In the philosophy of science, yes. I had gotten Bert the job out here. Iíd recommended him -- I suppose it was to Cliff -- and he had come out here. And these other fellows -- they didnít want to come -- and I donít think I blame them, and so I came. Well, Iím glad I did. I think I did the right thing. But I did not like that course. They had given me another one in practical astronomy that I had really never taught before, and I had to do quite a little work on that. But I think that turned out to be very successful. Now, they had a group -- I guess they were graduate students by that time: Ron AngioniÖdid you know Ron?
And oh, John Seevers. I think there were about 15 of them, so that made a nice nucleus for that class. So thatís how I happened to come to San Diego. Now, how I got to Alpine; I had retired in 1968, and the next semester that fall Cliff called me and asked me if Iíd be willing to come back and teach one class, Astronomy 1. They were all freshmen and didnít know a darn thing. But they were nice kids and I rather enjoyed it, but I had trouble teaching them anything. So that was it. And then that spring we went to a meeting in Tucson and drove (it was about a week, I think) and came back and Elizabeth went over later to meet her sister over there, and she wrote me a letter and said, ďJust as soon as I got to Alpine I felt better.Ē So I started looking in the classified ads. There were places advertised in Alpine.
Yale University Press, 1913
Frost, Lawes, Parkhurst, Barrett, van Biesbrock, Lee, Struve, F. E. Ross.
ApJ 91 (1930), p. 20.
Publ. Washburn Observatory 15 (1928) p. 101
See: Pubs. Washburn Obs. 15 (1934) p. 139
Astronomy I, II (Ginn, 1926).
(Holt, R. W. 1961) with Trinklein.
(Holt, R. W. 1967) with Trinklein and Bunge.
ApJ Supplement (1962) 7: 351.
Huffer, Trinklein, and Bunge (op. cit.)
Astronomical Spectroscopy (1892).
The Internal Constitution of the Stars (1926).
ApJ 106 (1947), p. 106
"The California-Wisconsin Axis" Sky & Telescope (1976?)