Case School: The Evolving History

Mathematics and Astronomy


Dr. Stockwell was the first professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at case School of Applied Science.  Stockwell was famous for his work on lunar motion and the prediction of eclipses. He became the first Kerr Professor of Mathematics and was considered it first head until his 1887 leave. 

The Kerr Professorship in Mathematics was established in 1885 by Mrs. Laura Kerr Axtell to honor her brother Levi Kerr who was was one of the first five members of the Board of Trustees. After Dr. Stockwell left, Dr. Harry F. Reid became the second Kerr Professor of Mathematics but he resigned from the faculty in 1894.  In 1889 Dr. Charles S. Howe joined the staff and became the third Kerr Professor from 1890-1908 and the first official head of the Mathematics Department.

It is interesting to note that during that period, Civil engineers students were required to take a course in astronomy which included descriptive astronomy, study of the constellations, telescopic observations, method of least squares and its application to geodetic work.

In 1898, an Observatory was erected between Case Main and the Chemical Laboratory Building, through the efforts of Prof. Howe working with Ambrose Swasey and Worcester F. Warner . They were most helpful in making this first Observatory at Case a reality being both amateur astronomers and telescope builders.  This campus Observatory was a very simple, two-story cylinder dome called "The Star Theatre" by the students. The dome hosted the 3-inch astronomical transit and zenith telescope made by the Warner and Swasey Company of Cleveland

The Observatory also hosted a chronograph made by the same firm, an astronomical clock by Riefler, a 2-inch altazimuth with 8-inch circles read by micrometer microscopes, a sextant, and a solar transit. The Observatory on campus was used for instruction in astronomy and geodesy until the Warner and Swasey Observatory was built on Taylor Road, East Cleveland, in 1920.


In 1902, Howe became the second president of Case and many of his Math Department duties were turned over to Theodore Focke, who became the fourth Kerr Professor and remained so until 1944.

By 1918 there were eight faculty and instructors in mathematics and astronomy.

The department opened a new Observatory in 1920 with the generous support of Worcester R. Warner and Ambrose Swasey. Its dedication meant the closing of the small observatory located on campus, also nicknamed the "tin can observatory," which functioned between 1897-1920. The Warner & Swasey Observatory was located on a hill on Taylor Road at Brunswick Circle, East Cleveland.



In 1930, the Department of Mathematics and Astronomy separated into the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Astronomy.