Rear Admiral, United States Navy
Born in Wallace, Nova Scotia, on March 12, 1835, he was educated privately. He came to the United States in 1853 and was appointed computer on Nautical Almanac in 1857. He graduated from Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard College in 1858 and appointed Professor of Mathematics, United States Navy, in 1861, assigned to duty at the Naval Observtory in Washington. In 1894, he also became professor of mathematics-Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. A many of many US and foreign scientific societies. He made numerous astronomical discoveries and published more than 100 scientific papers.
His stone in section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery reads:
"Profesor of Mathematics, United States Navy, 1835-1909. The heavens declare this glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork."
His daughter, Anita
Newcomb McGee is also buried in this gravesite.
He came to the United States in 1853, and during 1854-'6 was engaged as a teacher in Maryland. There he became acquainted with Joseph Henry and Julius E. Hilgard, who, recognizing his aptitude for mathematics, secured his appointment in 1857 as computer on the "Nautical Almanac," which was then published in Cambridge, Massachusetts He entered the Lawrence scientific school, and was graduated in 1858, continuing thereafter for three years as a graduate student.
In 1861 he was appointed professor of mathematics
in the United States Navy, and assigned to duty at the United States naval
observatory in Washington. There he negotiated the contract for the 26-inch
equatorial telescope authorized by congress, supervised its construction,
and planned the tower and dome in which it is mounted. In 1871 he was appointed
secretary of the commission that was created by congress for the purposes
of observing the transit of Venus on 9 December, 1874,
which organized the expeditions that were sent out by the United States
government. He visited the Saskatchewan region in 1860 to observe an eclipse
of the sun, and in 1870-'1 was sent to Gibraltar for a similar purpose,
and in 1882 he observed the transit of Venus at the Cape of Good Hope.
Meanwhile in 1877 he became senior professor of mathematics in the United
States Navy, with the relative rank of captain, and since that time has
been in charge of the office of the "American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac."
A large corps of civilian assistants in Washington and elsewhere, as well
as officers of the navy who are detailed to that office, work under his
direction. In addition to these duties, in 1884 he became professor of
mathematics and astronomy in Johns Hopkins, where he has charge of the
graduate students in astronomy. Professor Newcomb has been intimately associated
with the equipment of the Lick observatory of California, and examined
the glass of the great telescope and its mounting before its acceptance
by the trustees. The results of his scientific work have been given to
the world in more than 100 papers and memoirs. Concerning these, Arthur
Cayley, president of the Royal astronomical society of Great Britain, said:"
Professor Newcomb's writings exhibit, all of them, a combination, on the
one hand, of mathematical skill and power, and on the other of good hard
work, devoted to the furtherance of astronomical science." His work has
been principally in the mathematical astronomy of the solar system, particularly
Neptune, Uranus, and the moon, but the whole plan in the most exact possible
tables of the motions of all the planets. Among the most important of his
papers are "On the Secular Variations and Mutual Relations of the Orbits
of the Asteroids" (1860); "An Investigation of the Orbit of Neptune, with
General Tables of its Motion" (1867); "An Investigation of the Orbit of
Uranus, with General Table of its Motion" (1874); " Researches on the Motion
of the Moon" (1876) ; "Measure of the Velocity of Light" (1884); and "Development
of the Perturbative Function and its Derivative in Sines and Cosines of
the Eccentric Anomaly, :rod in Powers of the Eccentricities and Inclinations"
(1884). In 1874 Columbian university of Washington conferred on him the
degree of LL. D., and in 1875 he received a similar honor from Yale, also
from Harvard in 1884, and from Columbia in 1887, while on the 300th anniversary
of the founding of the University of Leyden, in 1875, that institution
gave him the degree of master of mathematics and doctor of natural philosophy,
and on the 500th anniversary of the University of Heidelberg, in 1886,
he received the degree of Ph. D. He was awarded the gold medal of the Royal
astronomical society in 1874, and in 1878 received the great gold Huygens
medal of the University of Leyden, which is given to astronomers once in
twenty years for the most important work accomplished in that science between
its awards, in 1887 the Russian government ordered the portrait of Professor
Newcomb to be painted for the collection of famous astronomers at the Russian
observatory at Pulkowa. He was elected an associate of the Royal astronomical
society in 1872, corresponding member of the Institute of France in 1874,
and foreign member of the Royal society in 1877, and he also holds honorary
or corresponding relations to nearly all the European academies of science.
In 1887 he was elected one of the eight members of the council of the Astronomische
Gesellschaft, an international astronomical society that meets once in
two years. He was elected to the National academy of sciences in 1869,
and since 1883 has been its vice-president. In 1876 he was elected president
of the American association for the advancement of science, and he delivered
his retiring address at the St. Louis meeting in 1878. He has also held
the presidency of the American society for psychical research. His literary
work includes contributions to many of the important reviews. He is also
editor of the "American Journal of Mathematics." His scientific books in-elude
"Popular Astronomy" (New York, 1877), which has been republished in England
and translated into German; " School Astronomy," with Edward S. Holden
(1879 ; "Briefer Course," 1883) ; also a series of text-books, comprising
"Algebra" (1881) : "Geometry" (1881) ; "Trigonometry Logarithms" (1882);
" School Algebra " (1882) ; " Analytic Geometry" (1884) ; " Essentials
of Trigonometry" (1884) ; and "Calculus" (1887). Professor Newcomb refers
to astronomy as his profession and to political economy as his recreation.
In the latter branch his books include "A Critical Examination of our Financial
Policy during the Rebellion" (New York, 1865) ; "The A B C of Finance"
(1877) ; "A Plain Man's Talk on the Labor Question " (1886); and " Principles
of Political Economy" (1886).
U S N
DATE OF DEATH: 07/11/1909
BURIED AT: SECTION 1 SITE 527
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Page updated: 25 May 1999 Updated: 18 August 2001 Updated: 3 August 2003 Updated: 24 December 2006
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 28 June 2003