Loomis, Elias

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Loomis, Elias

(b. Willington, Connecticut, 7 August 1811;d. New Haven, Connecticut, 15 August 1889)

meteorology, mathematics, astronomy.

Loom is graduated from Yale College in 1830, and was a tutor there from 1833 to 1836. He became professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Western Reserve College, in Hudson, Ohio, in 1836, although he spent the first year of his appointment in further study in Paris. From 1844 to 1860 he was professor at the University of the City of New York. In 1860 he accepted a call to Yale, where he stayed until the end of his life. After the early death of his wife, Loomis led a rather isolated life, centered around his work, his only diversion being the compilation of an extensive genealogy of the Loomis family. He was member of the National Academy of Sciences and of scientific societies in the United States and Europe.

Loomis’ interest was divided among several branches of science. Most of his scientific achievements were of a practical, rather than a theoretical, nature. His work, reflecting his conviction that the laws governing natural phenomena can be uncovered only by studying observed data, was carried out with utmost precision, and his research, although not always original, was highly valued because of its great reliability. In his own time, however, Loomis was better known for the publication of a large number of textbooks on mathematics, astronomy, and meteorology than for his scientific investigations.

Loomis made his most important contributions in the field of meteorology. In 1846 he published the first “synoptic” weather map, a new method of data representation that in the following decades exerted a profound influence on the formulation of theories of storms. This method became of fundamental importance in the development of weather prediction. The weather maps presented in Loomis1 paper brought clarification to the heated controversy between J. P. Espy and W, C. Redfield concerning the surface wind pattern in storms. Later, Loomis essentially followed Espy in regarding thermal convection, reinforced by the latent heat released during condensation of water vapor, as the chief factor in storm formation. As soon as weather maps began to be published on a daily basis in the United States, in 1871, Loomis embarked on a long series of meticulous statistical investigations of cyclones and anticyclones. His results effectively supported the convection theory of cyclones.

Throughout his life Loomis was strongly interested in geomagnetism. In 1833–1834 he conducted a series of hourly observations of the earth’s magnetic field and mapped his results for the United States. In 1860 Loomis prepared the first map of the frequency distribution of auroras and pointed out that the oval belt of most frequent auroras was not centered on the geographic pole but approximately paralleled the lines of equal magnetic dip.

Loomis devoted much of his time to astronomical investigations. These studies dealt mainly with the observation of meteors and the determination of longitude and latitude of various localities. Together with D. Olmsted he rediscovered Halley’s comet on its return in 1835 and computed its orbit.


I. Original Works, Loomis published a large number of his papers in the American Journal of Science and Arts, including his investigations on the aurora borealis (1859–1861) and a series of twenty-three papers entitled “Contributions to Meteorology” (1874–1889). A complete bibliography of Loomis’ works is to be found in H. A. Newton, “Biographical Memoir of Elias Loomis,” in Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences, 3 (1895), 213–252. Collections of Loomis’ papers and correspondence are to be found in the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

II. Secondary Literature. The most complete biographical notice is H. A. Newton, cited above. See also F. Waldo, “Some Remarks on Theoretical Meteorology in the United States, 1855 to 1890,” in Report of the international Meteorological Congress, Chicago, August 21–24, 1893, edited by O. L. Fassig as Bulletin. Weather Bureau, United States Department of Agriculture2 , pt. 2 (1895), 318–325.

Gisela Kutzbach