NOAA History Banner
gold bar divider
home - takes you to index page
about the site
noaa - takes you to the noaa home page
search this site
white divider
arrow Profiles in Time
arrow NWS Biographies
  see also with pointing hand
arrow Giants of Science

banner - profiles in time nws biographies

The announcement that Prof. Cleveland Abbe, who for some time past has cleveland abbebeen prevented by the infirmities of advancing years from taking an active part in the work of the bureau, has now definitely retired from official life will awaken a keen sense of personal loss in the minds of his former colaborers. Professor Abbe was not only a tireless and prolific worker in behalf of science and the public institution to which he dedicated the best years of his life, but he was also, in a very unusual degree, endowed with the faculty of communicating his enthusiasm to others and stimulating their efforts; a faculty that made itself felt both in personal intercourse and through his writings.

Born in New York City in 1838, he was graduated from the Free Academy (now the College of the City of New York) in 1857, and studied astronomy with F. Brunnow, at Ann Arbor, 1858-60, and with B. A. Gould, at Cambridge, 1860-64. From Cambridge he went to Russia, where he spent two years as a student and assistant at the Observatory at Pulkova, under the distinguished astronomer Otto Struve. On returning to the United States he was connected for a short time with the Naval Observatory, and was called thence to the directorship of the Cincinnati Observatory.

Professor Abbe's work at Cincinnati will always remain a landmark in the history of meteorology, as it was here that he organized, in 1869, with the assistance of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and the Western Union Telegraph Company, a system of telegraphic weather reports, daily weather maps, and weather forecasts, the first regular undertaking of this kind in America, and the prototype of the weather service now maintained by the Federal Government. Indeed, the object lesson afforded by Professor Abbe's undertaking was the strongest argument in behalf of the establishment of a national weather service in connection with the Signal Corps of the Army; a project urged upon Congress by Dr. I. A. Lapham and others and put into effect in the year 1870.

In January, 1871, Professor Abbe was appointed a civilian assistant in the office of the Chief Signal Officer, where he organized the forecast work and began preparing the tri-daily synopses and "probabilities" of the weather. In the same year he began and urged the collection of lines of leveling, and in 1872, by laborious analysis, deduced the altitudes of the Signal Service barometers above sea-level. In 1873 he inaugurated the Monthly Weather Review, and he prepared several of the earlier numbers of this publication, which was then only a brief bulletin of current weather statistics. Twenty years later he was appointed editor of an enlarged publication bearing the same title, and under his direction it soon became one of the leading meteorological journals of the world.

It was largely owing to Professor Abbe's advice that General Myer, the Chief Signal Officer, sought the cooperation of foreign governments and of the International Meteorological Congress of 1873 in establishing the "Daily Bulletin of Simultaneous International Meteorological Observations," and Professor Abbe took a leading part in organizing this remarkable enterprise. World-wide systems of observations continued to be one of the chief objects of his interest and advocacy throughout his career. He was also especially instrumental in the organization of the State weather services, the predecessors of the present climatological service of the Weather Bureau.

Professor Abbe never ceased to urge the importance of meteorological research, and he organized a branch of the Central Office, known at first informally, and later officially, as the "study room," in which many fruitful investigations were carried out. He himself set the example in this field of activity. He prepared, for publication as supplements to annual reports of the chief signal officer, a "Treatise on Meteorological Apparatus and Methods" (1887), and "Preparatory Studies for Deductive Methods in Storm and Weather Prediction" (1889), and he laid English-speaking meteorologists throughout the world under a special obligation by collecting and translating the leading contributions to the subject of dynamic meteorology (published by the Smithsonian Institution, 1877, 1891, and 1910). He also compiled a very comprehensive digest on the relations between climate and crops (published in part as Weather Bureau Bulletin 36). These notable works represent, however, only a small part of his scientific and literary activity. He was a voluminous contributor to scientific journals and books of reference, as well as to official publications. His scientific achievements were summarized by the president of the Royal Meteorological Society, when the Symons Memorial Gold Medal of that society was conferred upon him in 1912, in the statement that he "has contributed to instrumental, statistical, dynamical, and thermodynamical meteorology, and forecasting," and "has, moreover, played throughout the part not only of an active contributor, but also of a leader who drew others into the battle and pointed out paths along which attacks might be successful."

Professor Abbe was one of the leading promoters of the introduction of standard time in this country, and was chairman of a committee of the American Metrological Society which urged this reform until it was finally adopted. -- August 1916

The death of Prof. Cleveland Abbe, which occurred in the early morning of October 28, 1916, is announced.

Professor Abbe died at his home in Chevy Chase, Md., to which he had returned a few weeks before, after spending the summer on the coast of New England.

It was characteristic of his devotion to science and the vigor of his mental faculties, that only a short time before he died he dictated a memorandum to his wife regarding the manuscript of a translation relating to meteorites that had been sent to him for comment.

Professor Abbe's life was one of unusual simplicity and devotion to science, especially to meteorology and climatology, although the early years of his manhood were occupied with astronomical work in which he gained much distinction. He indulged in scarcely any recreations. He found his pleasures, when away from his office, among his books. Gentleness and kindness reached their heights with him and, aside from his world-wide recognition as a meteorologist, he will be remembered always as a man that was universally loved.

As a special mark of respect to Professor Abbe, the flags on the main building of the Department of Agriculture and on the Weather Bureau, in Washington, were flown at half mast on the day of his funeral. -- October 1916

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.
Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:27 AM

Privacy Policy | Disclaimer