The Life and Work of Dr. Walter Lee Moore

1898 -1989

Notes from an Oral History Recorded in December 1981


1. Discussion of the origins of Dr. Moore's interest in mathematics and astronomy.

2. Discussion of his family, childhood recollections and hometown.

3. High school and college experiences.

4. Mathematician versus being a teacher of mathematics.

5. Discussion of Albion College, Albion Michigan (1918 - 1924), his student life and odd jobs, esp. his work as a night watchman and in a machine shop.

6. Recounting his years of graduate study at the University of Illinois (1924 - 1928): Geometry major, Physics minor. Only one course ever taken in Astronomy.

7. Discussion of his father who made his own farm machinery.


1. On how Dr. Moore came to the University of Louisville in 1929.

2. His unsuccessful attempt at mathematical research at the University of Illinois: Fall 1928 - Spring 1929.

3. Dr. Moore marries in 1928; he and Katherine Moore hitchhiked back and forth from Louisville several times.

4. July 1929: Dr. Moore hired by President Kent of U of L for an annual salary of $3,000.

5. Dr. Moore's first impressions of U of L and the city of Louisville in 1928-29.

6. His interests in teaching Astronomy and Inter-departmental Science developed in 1930 due to the Great Depression and the potential of being laid off or reduced to a part-time teaching position.

7. On James G. Baker: always an outstanding student, he began as a chemistry student, turned to Physics and Mathematics in 1933 as a result of Dr. Moore's Inter-departmental Science course. During World War II, Dr. Baker designed and built several wide-angle lenses for aerial reconnaissance which yielded better detail and resolution than any previous lens design. The design was put into mass production by the Corning Glass Corporation. Later, Dr. Baker formulated a design for an improved super wide angle Schmidt Camera which was used for satellite tracking. The design was named the Baker-Nunn design and 10 were built and installed in various locations around the world.

8. University of Louisville history: various U of L math teachers Dr. Moore knew over the years.

9. Extensive discussion of number systems, computer technology and their roles in education.


1. The "new math" and the development of the binary system which is used in computers.

2. Various number bases in their astronomical origins.

3. The names and sequences of the days of the week as related to the planets, Sun, and Moon.

4. More U of L history: university presidents known to Dr. Moore.

5. 1967 - 1969: Retirement benefit controversy.

6. U of L changes from city institution to private school in 1934.

7. Graduation ceremony anecdotes.

8. Highlights and changes in U of L, changes in Math requirements affecting all students, World War II duties, various school officials.

9. Experiences in teaching celestial navagation to servicemen during World War II.


1. Ten-minute discussion of analytic geometry as a prelude to calculus and the use of projective geometry in paintings.

2. One course in Astronomy taken at Albion College and one course taken while graduate student at University of Illinois.

3. The astronomy teacher at Albion College let Dr. Moore operate and fix up the college's 6-inch refractor as well as a precision time-keeping device.

4. In 1930, the fear of being laid off from U of L due to the Great Depression led Dr. Moore to spend 2 weeks at Yerkes Observatory learning from their astronomy teachers and developing the course he introduced at the University of Louisville. The course was first taught in the Fall semester of 1932.

5. Also in 1932, Dr. Moore met Charles Strull who was giving a series of astronomical lectures at the YWCA and Oscar McCarty who was running a mini-course in astronomy at the Covered Bridge Boy Scout camp.

6. In 1933 the Louisville Astronomical Society was organized and began holding its meetings in the UofL Library Lecture Lounge. Note: according to James G. Baker's journal, the club first met on March 5, 1933 at Dr. Moore's home and was called simply the "Astronomica Society". The formal "organizing" with Strull and McCarty did not occur until a meeting on Friday, October 27, 1933.

7. Dr. Moore recounts his building of a 6", an 8", a 10" (which he dropped and broke the mirror beyond repair) and finally a 12" mirror. The 12" mirror was put in a tlescope which Dr. Moore used from about 1933 until at least 1955.

8. On Gordon Miller: He and Dr. Moore first met in 1935 through Charles Strull. Miller had a 12" Clark reflector which he kept on his farm in east Louisville. In 1945 Miller (having lost his night vision) gave the telescope to UofL as per Charles Strull's suggestion.

9. Dr. Moore and Dr. Stephenson erected a small square-shaped roll off observing shed to the west of the old UofL Playhouse (now the site of the present library). The 12" Miller telescope and building constituted UofL's first observatory.

10. The Miller Observatory was dedicated in 1945 and Dr. Bart Bok of Harvard gave a speech, according to the Courier Journal.

11. Reynold's Metals provided materials for the building and UofL appropriated about $6,000.

12. In 1936 Dr. Moore was pleased with his own 12" telescope but began wanting a bigger telescope so, at the suggestion of Charles Ingalls (of Scientific American and editor of Amateur Telescope Making), he contacted the Corning Glass Corporation in search of a 20" mirror blank. Corning offered a 20" blank for $300 which was beyond the means of the LAS. However, Corning agreed to reduce the price to $180 if a total of 5 orders for 20" blanks would be received.

13. In 1936, Scientific American (through Charles Ingalls) carried some free advertisements which resulted in at least 5 orders for 20" blanks from Corning.

14. To raise the required $180. Dr. Moore gave a series of 8 public lectures at the Women's Building (Home Economics) at UofL which netted about $400 from ticket sales.

15. LAS members James Burke, Stanley Thorpe, Lewis Aker, Charles Bruce and Richard Holzbog initially worked with Dr. Moore on the mirror.


1. Mirror blank arrives in Louisville in late 1936.

2. UofL lets LAS use a room in the Physics Building (now Education Building on 3rd Street) which was shared by Speed School for working on the mirror. Stanley Thorpe had already built a machine for grinding the mirror.

3. A group of Dr. Moore plus 11 other LAS members met once each week for about 2 hours to work on the mirror.

4. While the mirror work was being completed, Charles Bruce, Ken McElwain, Wilbur Johnson and Richard Holzbog worked on designs for the tube and mounting. Originally they favored a split ring horseshoe (like the Mount Palomar design). Later they decided a German equatorial would be easier to build successfully.

5. During WWII, UofL needed the Physics Building room so the LAS had to move. Through a member's daughter, the LAS secured a room in the original museum at 5th & York, but dust from the ceiling led to scratches forming on the mirror's surface.

6. In 1947 Dr. Moore offered to let the LAS use his home on Star Lane for the mirror work. Of the original group, only Lewis Aker still came on occasion to work. Dr. Moore worked fundamentally alone from 1947 through 1949 when the mirror finally tested perfect to ± 1/8 wave. Lewis Aker applied the silvering.

7. Credits for materials: Schutz Company donated the bronze and did the Foundary work free of charge, the Murphy Elevator Company cut the gear teeth on the Schmutz castings, a boiler company on 7th Street where LAS Secretary Kubaugh worked provided the straight pipes for the telescope tube.

8. On the observatory: Dr. Moore and the LAS entered into a formal verbal agreement that the telescope could be put on his property on Star Lane but Dr. Moore could order it be moved and the LAS could move it at any time.

9. More credits for work and materials donated: The Reynolds Company gave the metal for the dome, the "Juniors" dug the hole for the base (Note: minutes from the LJAS meetings do not substantiate this activity). Austin Smith built the floor from concrete block and Dr. Moore built the observatory himself over a 2-year period.

10. The Star Lane Observatory was dedicated in September 1955 in conjunction with the Great Lakes Regional Convention hosted by the LAS. Wilbur Johnson collimated the 'scope that morning.

11. On Dr. Moore's favorite "Juniors": John Kielkopf and Richard Gott - both were already doing excellent work in astronomy while still in high school and both received doctorates later. Richard Gott was doing publishable research while in "Juniors".

12. Dr. Moore always considered himself a teacher and "gadget builder" - not a researcher and hardly even a "professional" astronomer.

13. Extensive recounting of the subdivisions which "grew up" on both sides of Star Lane which destroyed good observing conditions and which led to the fire which destroyed his home in 1968.

14. Discussion of Dr. Moore's "hobby" of machine work in the UofL machine shop at age 70 in 1969 (following his voluntary retirement from teaching in 1967). Note: the "hobby" at Uof L was 20 hours per week paid employment steadily until June 1989. most of his work was in making devices needed for the observatory. His number of hours of donated work is unknown.


1. Detailed recounting of a trip to Brazil with Dr. Charles Smiley of Brown University in 1948 to observe a solar eclipse - eclipse was clouded out but they did extensive celestial navigation on the ship both going and coming from Brazil.

2. Brief mention of the Rauch Memorial Planetarium - Dr. Moore's limited role was to suggest they obtain a Spitz projector ("state of art" in 1962) and he gave 7 public lectures in 1962 while a director was being chosen. Otherwise he had no part in designing the planetarium or choosing the director. Moore had little contact with the planetarium staff after a director was selected.

3. More on the 20" telescope (actually 20 5/8" clear diameter): He favored development of the "Juniors" who probably used the telescope more than the LAS "Seniors". Also, Dr. Moore always making anything the observatory needed, e.g., camera mountings.

4. The light pollution became unbearable starting in 1965 when subdivisions to Star Lane's east and west were opened. The end of Star Lane became inevitable.

5. Dr. Moore and the LAS first tried to find a suitable public park such as Cherokee or Otter Creek. Also, contacts were made with Bernheim Forest officials. In all cases, they were very agreeable but unable to put up any funds.

6. Also, an unnamed man in Indiana offered the use of his farm for the telescope - Dr. Moore believed that solution would be very short-term and argued against that proposal.

7. Finally Dr. Moore made a motion at a meeting of the LAS that the telescope be given to UofL with the stipulation that the LAS would have some time on the telescope. The motion was unanimously carried (the year was not stated but probably 1970).

8. UofL accepted the offer, planned and financed the new observatory. UofL Vice President Eckstrom asked Dr. Moore if UofL could name it after him.

9. The telescope was dismantled and moved to the Physics Department and the machine shop where Dr. Moore did extensive reworking on the gears and drive system to make them suitable for precision research. He also reworked the setting circles and "lapped in" revised gear teeth by running them together with mild abrasive for a week.

10. The formal dedication ceremonies for "Walter Lee Moore Observatory" were held on November 8, 1978.

11. On the Schmidt camera: about 1970 the will of Mrs. Charles Bruce was probated. It contained a provision that the LAS receive about $4,000. Dr. Moore suggested that the money be used to purchase a 14" Schmidt camera to be used in conjunction with the 20" telescope. Note: The LAS records show that the lengthy process of being incorporated as a non-profit organization under state and federal laws was undertaken in order to qualify for the bequest. The incorporation was completed in 1972. In 1976 the LAS voted unanimously to appropriate the funds, buy the camera from the Celestron Company and give it to UofL.

12. On Dr. Moore's family: He met his wife while both were in graduate school in 1927 and they were married June 2, 1928 in Madison, Wisconsin. They were unable to have children of their own so they became foster parents for 15 children over several years. They adopted a son (who lives in Florida) and a daughter (Peggy Claggett) who lives in Louisville with her husband Charles. Dr. Moore has several grandchildren in Florida and in Louisville. Note: At the September 22, 1989 LAS "Reunion Saturday", Mrs Catherine Moore received a commemorative plaque in honor of Dr. Moore's service to the LAS. Mr. & Mrs. Charles Claggett were in attendance along with many past and present LAS members.


1. More reflections on building the 20" telescope for about $500.

2. Reflections on his life in which he began his career as a farmboy, went to school to become a teacher but could have been a tool and die maker, taught over 40 years, then worked another 20 years in a machine shop.

3. In conclusion, Dr. Moore had no regrets whatsoever and had thoroughly enjoyed himself throughout his long life.

For more information contact John Kielkopf . A tape recording of this history is still available.

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