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William Wallace Campbell

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Title: William Wallace Campbell  
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Subject: David Prescott Barrows, National Academy of Sciences, List of astronomers, William W. Campbell, Campbell (lunar crater)
Collection: 1862 Births, 1938 Deaths, American Astronomers, American People of Scottish Descent, Corresponding Members of the Russian Academy of Sciences (1917–25), Corresponding Members of the Ussr Academy of Sciences, Foreign Members of the Royal Society, Leaders of the University of California, Berkeley, National Academy of Sciences Laureates, People from Hancock County, Ohio, Recipients of the Bruce Medal, Recipients of the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, Scientists Who Committed Suicide, University of California Regents, University of Colorado Faculty, University of Michigan Alumni, University of Michigan Faculty
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William Wallace Campbell

William Wallace Campbell

William Wallace Campbell (April 11, 1862 – June 14, 1938) was an American astronomer, and director of Lick Observatory from 1900 to 1930. He specialized in spectroscopy.[1][2][3]


  • Biography 1
  • Honors and awards 2
  • Crocker expeditions led by Campbell 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


He was born on a farm in Hancock county, Ohio, the son of Robert Wilson and Harriet Welsh Campbell. After a few years of local schooling he entered in 1882 the University of Michigan to study civil engineering, graduating Bachelor of Science in 1886. Whilst at university he developed his interest in astronomy when he read Simon Newcomb's Popular Astronomy.[4]

After graduating he was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the University of Colorado but soon moved back to Michigan as an instructor in astronomy. In 1891 he was invited to work on spectroscopy at Lick Observatory in California. Campbell was a pioneer of astronomical spectroscopy and catalogued the radial velocities of stars. In 1893 he discovered the Wolf–Rayet star HD 184738 (also known as Campbell's hydrogen envelope star).[5][6] He was made a director of Lick Observatory from 1901 to 1930. He led a team to Australia in 1922 where he photographed a solar eclipse. The data obtained provided further evidence supporting Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. In 1931 he accepted the rôle of president of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington (1931–1935).

He served as 10th President of the University of California from 1923 to 1930. He also served on the board of trustees for Science Service, now known as Society for Science & the Public, from 1923 to 1926. He served three terms as president of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (in 1895, 1909 and 1918).

He committed suicide in California at the age of 76 by leaping to his death from a fourth-story window in San Francisco.[7][8] He was mostly blind and suffering from bouts of aphasia. This was not only very frustrating to him, but he felt that it left him a burden to his family in terms of care and expense, according to notes he left behind at the time of his death. He had married Elizabeth Ballard Thompson in 1892; they had three sons (one of them being WWI ace Douglas Campbell).

Honors and awards

Crocker expeditions led by Campbell

Charles Frederick Crocker and William Henry Crocker financed numerous Lick-Crocker solar eclipse expeditions. Campbell led several of these expeditions.[16]


  1. ^ Aitken, R. G. (1938). "William Wallace Campbell, 1862-1938". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 50: 204.  
  2. ^ Moore, J. H. (1939). "William Wallace Campbell, 1862-1938". The Astrophysical Journal 89: 143.  
  3. ^ (1939) 317 Obituary99MNRAS
  4. ^ Hockey, Thomas (2009). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers.  
  5. ^ Campbell, W. W. (1894). "The Wolf-Rayet stars". Astronomy and Astro-Physics 13: 448–476 (specifically p. 461).  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ NNDB
  8. ^ "UC Presidents." University of California. University of California, 04/27/2007. Web. 1 Sep 2011.
  9. ^ "Henry Draper Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 19 February 2011. 
  10. ^ (1906) 24566Awarding of RAS gold medal: MNRAS
  11. ^ Crawford, R. T. (1915). "Address upon the Presentation of the Bruce Gold Medal to Dr. W. W. CAMPBELL". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 27: 153.  
  12. ^  
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Planetary Names: Crater, craters: Campbell on Moon". IAU. 2010-10-18. 
  15. ^ "Planetary Names: Crater, craters: Campbell on Mars". IAU. 2010-11-17. 
  16. ^ "List of solar eclipse expeditions". The Adolfo Stahl Lectures in astronomy, delivered in San Francisco, 1916-1917 and 1917-1918. Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 1919. p. 65. 

External links

  • Bruce Medal page
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir
  • Portraits of William Wallace Campbell from the Lick Observatory Records Digital Archive, UC Santa Cruz Library's Digital Collections
Academic offices
Preceded by
David Prescott Barrows
President of the University of California
Succeeded by
Robert Gordon Sproul
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