Stars Club History

The Early Years

The Springfield Telescope and Reflector Society (STARS) was founded in 1934 by a group of Westinghouse employees led by Wilbraham, MA native Carl Alsing. As a college student, Alsing took a train into Connecticut in January 1925 to watch a total eclipse of the Sun. Later, his passion for telescope making was kindled when he checked a book titled "The Amateur's Telescope" out of the Springfield City Library. He soon decided to build his own telescope.

Several other Westinghouse employees shared his interest in telescope making, so Alsing decided to form a club in Springfield, MA, which was modeled after the Springfield, Vermont Telescope Makers. Each member of the new club was required to build a telescope. Alsing had come in contact with the Vermont group during the annual Stellafane conventions, where he met Russell Porter, considered to be the founder of amateur telescope making.

Carl Alsing was elected the first president of the Stars Club in 1934. After he and several other members finished their telescopes, they began conducting stargazing programs in local communities.

Alsing and the handful of original Stars Club members felt the desire to build bigger and better telescopes, and this led them to purchase a 20-inch diameter Pyrex glass disc for $120. This was the last available disc made from leftover glass from the historic 200-inch mirror for the Hale Telescope at Mount Palomar in California. Their goal was to grind and polish it into a highly accurate concave telescope mirror, and then install it in a wooden telescope to be located on Wilbraham Mountain.

The massive 20-inch mirror blank arrived in Springfield in the fall of 1938, and club members met twice a week in a makeshift optical shop they had set up in the basement of Gifford Key Shop on Lyman Street.

With the mirror partially completed, the project was interupted by World War II, when gasoline rationing made it difficult for members to attend meetings and mirror-grinding sessions. The mirror was eventually donated to the Springfield Science Museum, where it would remain stored away for many years to come.

The Revival

Following the war in 1948, West Springfield resident Jack Welch began contacting original club members who still lived in the area with the idea of reorganizing the Stars Club. Carl Alsing had moved away and lost touch with the organization. Welch began holding club meetings at his home, where members would use their telescopes to observe the sky from his backyard on clear nights. Welch dropped the requirement that new club members must build a telescope, and the club evolved from a group of telescope makers into a society embracing all aspects of astronomy. As the club attracted new members, it quickly outgrew Jack Welch's home and Springfield Science Museum Director Frank Korkosz invited the club to hold its meetings at the museum. This began a long affiliation of cooperation between the two organizations that continues to this day.

Jack Welch, who served as Stars Club President from 1948-1961, decided to share his love of telescope making by starting a class at the Science Museum in 1954. The class was held every year for about ten years, with interest booming after the launch of Sputnik in 1957. One of Welch's students was Dr. Richard Scott, who saw a small notice at the museum about the class and contacted him about joining. After a warning from Welch about the time and effort required to build a precision telescope, Scott joined the group and suceeded in constructing his own instrument, which he still prizes.

The Golden Age

Cover of the January 1960 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine featuring the Foucault Pendulum.

In 1958, Jack Welch teamed up with Dr. Scott and fellow Stars Club member Warren Fillmore to build a Foucault Pendulum for the Science Museum. The Foucault Pendulum consists of a massive weight suspended from a long wire that can swing freely with minimal friction. When the pendulum is allowed to swing back and forth for several hours, the direction of its swing seems to gradually change. Actually, the direction of the pendulum's swing does not change relative to the stars, and the observed change is caused by the Earth rotating beneath it. This educational exhibit opened to the public on June 5, 1959 and was featured in the cover story of the January 1960 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.

With the sucessful completion of the Foucault Pendulum, Dr. Scott and Warren Fillmore soon began discussing the possibility of a new project for the club with Frank Korkosz. They proposed to make the 20-inch partially completed mirror, which had now been stored at the Science Museum for about fifteen years, into a telescope to be installed at the museum. Many designs were studied but the club lacked the funding needed to move the project forward. Scott was elected president of the Stars Club in 1961, a position he held throughtout most of the 1960's. During this time, several proposals and brochures were sent out and finally, in 1968, a large annonymous contribution made the project possible. A Telescope Building Committee was formed, consisting of Korkosz, Fillmore, Scott and Edson Wood, a metallurgist and mechanical engineer.

Working together along with eight other Stars Club members and a total of seventeen firms and other individuals who contributed valuable time and/or materials to the project, the Telescope Building Committee spent the next four years working on the project. Dr. Scott designed the telescope's optical system including all the necessary mathematics and Warren Fillmore designed the mechanical components and supervised the building of the whole instrument. Frank Korkosz helped out with special problems and had final approval of all aspects as well as getting the observatory dome constructed. Edson Wood was invaluable as a mechanical and engineering consultant.

The completed telescope was installed in the observatory dome as part of an addition to the Science Museum that included the Tolman Auditorium. It opened to the public on May 24, 1972. Over the years, thousands of people have looked through it in order to learn more about the amazing array of objects in our solar system and beyond.

The Modern Era

The original Stars Club website, 1996-2000.

In the years since the completion of the twenty-inch telescope and observatory, the Stars Club has undergone a dramatic change in its membership. Once devoted primarily to telescope making, today's Stars Club members represent a variety of interests in astronomy, including observing, photography and astronomy education. The 1970's, 1980's and 1990's also saw a dramatic increase in membership, thanks in part to celestial spectacles such as the appearance of Halley's Comet in 1986, Comet Hyakutake in 1996 and Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. By the end of the 1990's, there were one hundred Stars Club members. A major part of the club's activity has come to involve astronomy education, as the club conducts regular "Stars Over Springfield" programs in conjunction with the science museum. In 1996 the club launched its first website, thanks to the efforts of club president Ed Faits and members Alan Rifkin and Richard Sanderson. The website was redesigned late in 2000 and is currently in its third version, which debuted in 2008.

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