Elias Loomis
1811 - 1889

Elias Loomis was born on August 7, 1811, in Willington, Connecticut, one of six children born to Hubbel and Jerusha (Burt) Loomis. Hubbel was a Baptist minister who studied at Union College and also received an honorary masterˆs degree from Yale College in 1812. He sent Loomis to public school and gave his son additional training in Greek and mathematics at home. Loomis matriculated at Yale in 1826 and graduated in 1830. He taught at Mount Hope Academy near Baltimore for one year and then entered Andover Theological Seminary in 1831.

In 1833, Jeremiah Day, president of Yale and author of the first American series of mathematics textbooks, hired Loomis to be one of the tutors who provided elementary instruction at Yale through recitation sections. Loomis taught Latin, mathematics, and natural philosophy until 1836. He also began scientific research during this period. For fourteen months in 1834 and 1835, he made hourly observations of the declination of a compass needle in order to measure the earth's magnetic field. He worked with Alexander C. Twining of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1834 to determine the altitude of shooting stars. Loomis also made astronomical observations with Denison Olmsted, the professor of natural philosophy and astronomy at Yale. They were the first Americans to identify Halley's Comet when it returned in 1835. Loomis was elected to the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences in recognition of his achievements.

Western Reserve College

In 1836, the trustees of Western Reserve College, in Hudson, Ohio, chose Loomis to be the institution's mathematics and natural philosophy professor. (People from Yale had invested heavily in Ohio land.) Although they could only offer an annual salary of $600, one-third to one-half that paid to professors on the East Coast, the trustees did appropriate $4,000 for Loomis to use to purchase instruments and books in Europe. Accordingly, Loomis traveled to Paris and London for several months, where he attended lectures by such scientists as Franƒois Arago and Jean-Baptiste Biot, visited observatories, and purchased equipment to build an observatory at Western Reserve. Throughout his travels, Loomis sent thirty-six "Letters from Europe" to the Ohio Observer (October 1836-November 1837).

Loomis assumed his professorial duties in 1837. In addition to lecturing on natural philosophy and astronomy to the juniors and seniors and performing experiments in the classroom, he supervised construction of the observatory on the southwest corner of campusonly the third college observatory in the United States. Beginning in 1839, Loomis delivered ten papers to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia describing the observatory and the observations he made there. For example, he recorded the orbits of five orbits. Loomis also took a magnetic survey of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri in 1839 to assist Joseph Henry. He worked as well in meteorology, devising an atmospheric chart in which places with equal barometric pressure were connected. He hoped that information gathered by observers in the American South and West could be used to warn citizens in the North and East of approaching weather.

Loomis married Julia Elmore Upson in 1840. The couple raised two sons. When Western Reserve began to pay part of Loomis's salary in food and then fell in arrears at even that, the family decided to move. Meanwhile, Hubbel Loomis had moved to Alton, Illinois, after Jerusha died in 1829. He became active in the anti-slavery movement, sympathies shared by his son; Hubbel's report on the murder of an abolitionist in 1837 was read aloud in Hudson and heard by local wool merchant John Brown.

New York University

Loomis left Ohio to become the professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at New York University (then called the University of the City of New York) in 1844. That December, he observed an eclipse and participated in the short-lived National Institute, a scientific society in Washington, DC. Loomis prepared the first synoptic weather map, a new way of representing data that influenced theories of storms and weather prediction, in 1846. 1846 was also the year in which Loomis wrote his first textbook, Treatise on Algebra. Several of Loomis's texts became wildly popular, such as the 1848 Elements of Plane and Spherical Trigonometry, which went through 76 editions by 1881. Some of Loomis's textbooks were translated into French, Italian, Chinese, and Arabic. H. A. Newton checked the proofs for many of the books. Between 1846 and 1850, Loomis conducted experiments in electricity and telegraphy. He gave an account of American meteorology in the Smithsonian Annual Report for 1847.

Despite his opposition to slavery, Loomis considered moving to the University of Virginia in 1848. However, he instead was hired by Princeton University when Joseph Henry became Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution even though Loomis had not applied for the job. Unfortunately, the social atmosphere in New Jersey was hostile to Connecticut natives, so Loomis and his wife decided that he should go back to NYU in 1849. (Former West Point mathematics professor and textbook author Charles Davies came out of retirement to serve at NYU during the year that Loomis was absent.) Henry encouraged Loomis to write Recent Progress of Astronomy as one of the first works in a proposed series of popular publications from the Smithsonian, but editorial differences between the friends resulted in Loomis retrieving his manuscript and taking it to the large, pioneering New York firm that published his textbooks, Harper & Brothers.

Julia Loomis died in 1854, leaving Loomis to isolate himself in his work. He received an honorary LL.D. from NYU in the same year. Between 1859 and 1861, he published a series of papers on the aurora borealis in American Journal of Science.

Yale University

Loomis returned to Yale to succeed Olmsted in 1860. He continued to write mathematics and philosophy textbooks until 1869, ultimately selling 600,000 copies of his works. His attentions in research, though, were mainly focused on meteorology during this phase of his life. In the Smithsonian Annual Report for 1865, Loomis posited that the intensity of auroras followed a pattern similar to the periodicity of sunspot activity and magnetic storms. Loomis also conducted statistical studies of cyclones and supported the convection theory. Between 1874 and 1889, he published twenty-three ¶Contributions to Meteorology¾ in the American Journal of Science.

Loomis was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1873. In 1870 and 1880, he prepared genealogies of the paternal and maternal sides, respectively, of the family of his ancestor, Joseph Loomis.  When Loomis died in New Haven, Connecticut, on August 15, 1889, he left $300,000 of his textbook royalties to Yale in the largest bequest the institution had received up until that time.

Books By Loomis

A Collection of Algebraic Problems and Examples, for the Use of Colleges and High Schools in Examinations and Class Instruction (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1878).
The Descendants of Joseph Loomis, Who Came from Braintree, England, in the Year 1638, and Settled in Windsor, Connecticut, in 1639 Trigonometry And Tables (New Haven, 1870). See also James H. Holcombe, Jr., Descendants of Joseph Loomis, <www.uftree.com/UFT/WebPages/jholcomb/JLOOMIS/> (accessed 21 June 2001).
Descendants by the Female Branches of Joseph Loomis, 2 vol. (New Haven, 1880).
Elements of Algebra, Designed for the Use of Beginners (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851).
Elements of Analytical Geometry, and of the Differential and Integral Calculus (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851).
Elements of Arithmetic, Designed for Children (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1863).
Elements of Astronomy, Designed for Academies and High Schools (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1869).
Elements of Geometry, Conic Sections, and Plane Trigonometry (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1847).
Elements of Natural Philosophy, Designed for Academies and High Schools (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1858).
Elements of Plane and Spherical Trigonometry, With Their Applications to Mensuration, Surveying, and Navigation Trigonometry And Tables (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1848).
Introduction to Practical Astronomy (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1855).
Recent Progress of Astronomy, Especially in the United States (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1850; reprint, ed. I. B. Cohen, New York: Arno Press, 1980).
Tables of Logarithms of Numbers . . . Sines . . . Tangents for Every Ten Seconds . . . With Other Useful Tables Trigonometry And Tables (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1848).
Treatise on Algebra (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1846).
Treatise on Arithmetic, Theoretical and Practical (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1860).
Treatise on Astronomy, Designed for Colleges and Scientific Schools (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1868).
Treatise on Meteorology (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1868).

Loomis's manuscripts are housed in the Elias Loomis Family Papers, 1727-1947, in Manuscripts and Archives, Sterling Library, Yale University [MS 331], and the Elias Loomis Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. See also the Chancellorˆs Records, 1827-1890, New York University Libraries [RG 3.0.1]; William Frank Burroughs, Student Notebook, 1858, New York University Archives [MC 35]; George E. Clymer, Notes of Lectures Delivered on Natural Philosophy, 1848-1849, Smithsonian Institution Libraries; and the Silliman Family Papers, 1717-1977 [MS 450], Charles Walker Swan Papers, 1866-1924 [MS 1185], and Edward Claudius Herrick Papers, 1797-1862 [MS 691], all in Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. Several of Loomis's letters to Joseph Henry, held by the Smithsonian Institution Archives, appear in Marc Rothenberg, ed. The Papers of Joseph Henry, 8 vol. (Washington, DC, and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972-1998).

Works About Loomis
Clark A. Elliott, "Loomis, Elias," Biographical Dictionary of American Science: The Seventeenth Through the Nineteenth Centuries (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979), pp. 161-162.
James Rodger Fleming, "Loomis, Elias," in American National Biography, ed. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, vol. 13 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 903-904.
Gisela Kutzbach, "Loomis, Elias," in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, ed. Charles Coulston Gillispie, vol. 8 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970), p. 487.
"Loomis, Elias," The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, vol. 7 (New York and Clifton, NJ: James T. White and Company, 1898-1984), p. 233.
H. A. Newton, "Biographical Memoir of Elias Loomis," Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences 3 (1895): 213-252. Includes a full bibliography. Biography is partially available on Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, "Elias Loomis" <love.geology.yale.edu/kgl/Dept_Information/History/loomis.html> (accessed 10 June 2002).
David Eugene Smith, "Loomis, Elias," in Dictionary of American Biography, ed. Allen Johnson, vol. 11(New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1927-1936), pp. 398-399.
Bonnie S. Stadelman, "Elias Loomis and the Loomis Observatory," Ohio History 69 (1960): 157-170. Also available through <publications.ohiohistory.org> (accessed 10 June 2002).
Yale Alumni Magazine, "Thirty Decades of Distinguished Graduates: Elias Loomis" <www.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/01_03/popup/profiles/14.html>
Article by Amy Ackerberg-Hastings, aackerbe@erols.com