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Grubb, Howard

Grubb, Howard

(b. Dublin, Ireland, February 1844; d. Monkstown, Ireland, 17 September 1931)

optical engineering.

Grubb’s father, Thomas, engineer to the Bank of Ireland, established a factory for the manufacture of machine tools and telescopes. Grubb studied civil engineering at Trinity College, Dublin, but in 1865 left his studies to assist his father in the construction of a Cassegrain reflecting telescope of forty-eight inches aperture for Melbourne, Australia. He took control of the factory in 1868 and moved into larger premises in Rathmines, Dublin. In 1871 he married Mary Hester Walker, the daughter of a physician from Louisiana.

At Rathmines, between 1890 and 1914, Grubb made upwards of ninety first-class telescope objectives from five inches to twenty-eight inches in diameter and most of the necessary tubes and mountings. The completion, in 1887, of a twenty-seven-inch equatorial refractor, together with a forty-five-foot dome and three smaller domes for the Royal Observatory, Vienna, established his reputation as a maker of large telescopes of improved design. One of his most important undertakings was the construction in the 1890’s of seven identical photographic telescopes, each with a thirteen-inch objective and ten-inch guider. All seven were used in the Carte du Ciel, an international photographic survey of the entire heavens. He also worked on four larger photographic refractors from twenty-four inches to twenty-six and a half inches in aperture, and on several reflecting telescopes, among them a forty-inch for the Simeiz Observatory, Crimea.

Grubb patented (1900) a novel form of optical gunsight and perfected the submarine periscope, two instruments which he made in quantity during World War I. In 1914 the business was moved to St. Albans, England, and continued there until 1925, when a new company under the name of Sir Howard Grubb, Parsons and Company was formed, with headquarters at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Grubb, then 81 years of age, returned to Dublin.

Grubb was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1883 and knighted in 1887. He received the Cunningham Gold Medal of the Royal Irish Academy in 1881 and the Boyle Medal of the Royal Dublin Society in 1912. He was appointed scientific advisor to the Commissioners of Irish Lights in 1913 in succession to Sir Robert Ball. He was an honorary member of the Royal Institute of Engineers of Ireland and held the honorary degree of master of engineering from the University of Dublin.


I. Original Works. Grubb’s publications include “Telescopic Objectives and Mirrors: Their Preparation and Testing,” in Nature, 34 , 85; “Polar Telescopes,” in Transactions of the Royal Dublin Society, 2nd and 3rd series; “Automatic Spectroscope for Dr. Huggins’ Sun Observations,” in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 31 , 36; “On the Choice of Instruments for Stellar Photography,” ibid., 47 , 309; “New Arrangement of Electric Control for the Driving Clock of Equatorials,” ibid., 48 , 352; “On a New Form of Ghost Micrometer,” ibid., 41 , 59, written with E. C. Burton; and “Telescopes of the Future,” in Observatory, 1 (1877), 55.

II. Secondary Literature. The main sketches of Grubb’s life und work are obituary notices in Proceedings of the Royal Society, 135A (1932), iv-ix; and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 92 no. 4 (1932), 253–255. Grubb’s activities in telescope making are discussed in H. C. King, The History of the Telescope (London, 1955).

H. C. King

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