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Gautier, Paul Ferdinand

Gautier, Paul Ferdinand

(b. Paris, France, 12 October 1842; d. Paris, 7 December 1909)

astronomical instrumentation.

Born into a family of modest means, Gautier was obliged to begin working at the age of thirteen. From the age of eighteen—when he was employed by M. L. F. Secrétan—until his death, he was occupied with construction of astronomical instruments.

Gautier’s instruments were closely linked to the strides made by late nineteenth-century astronomy: many of the major refracting telescopes, astrographs, and transit instruments that he made from 1876 on are still used by the observatories, both in France and elsewhere, that commissioned them. His instruments performed perfectly; to the execution of precision screws, graduated circles, and telescopic mounts Gautier brought the unsurpassed competence that earned him recognition and membership in the Bureau des Longitudes in 1897.

Gautier supplied most of the double astrographs used in the international undertaking that produced the Carte du ciel. The mount for the first astrograph was built at his own expense, and the instrument’s performance led to its adoption in 1887 as a prototype.

Among Gautier’s accomplishments were all the equatorial telescopes of the coudé type. The classic Atlas de la lune of Loewy and Puiseux, compiled from 1896 to 1910, employed the instrument that he had built for the Paris observatory; the plates in this work compare favorably with the finest modern ones.

The career of this honest and unselfish man ended in undeserved failure. For the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900 Gautier constructed the largest refractor ever built. The lens, forty-nine inches in diameter, was mounted at the end of a horizontal tube more than 195 feet long and was joined to a large siderostat. The device operated at a huge financial loss and ruined Gautier. This instrument—which, with a few adjustment, might have played an important role in scientific research—was ultimately dismantled, and its components sold.

Gautier’s most important work includes equatorial visual telescopes, double astrographs, reflectors, and coudé equatorial telescopes at leading observatories in France, Austria, Greece, the Netherlands, Vatican City, Spain, Algeria, Argentina, and Brazil.


I. Original Works. Gautier published two technical memoirs in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences: “Sur un procédé de construction des vis de haute précision ...,” in 112 (1891), 991-992; and “Construction d’un miroir plan de 2 métres par des procédes mécaniques,” in 128 (1899), 1373-1375. Gautier left to others the task of describing his instruments but drafted “Note sur le sidérostat à lunette de 60 métres de foyer,” in Annuaire publicé par le Bureau des longitudes (1899), C1–C26,

II. Secondary Literature. On Gautier and his work, see H. Poincaré and B. Baillaud. “Funérailles de M. Paul Gautier,” in Annuaire publié par le Bureau des longitudes (1911), D1-D11; and L. Vandevyver, “La grande lunette de 1900,” in Ciel et terre, 19 (1899), 257-267.

Jacques R. LÉvy

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