MWO Instrumentation by the Decade: the 1930s

2019-05-30 10:16:30.000 – Charlie Peachey, IT Intern



            This past Memorial Day weekend marked the 87th anniversary of the first funding for the Mount Washington Observatory. Nearly nine decades ago Joe Dodge walked into the Copper Kettle Tea Room in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire for the 1932 New Hampshire Academy of Science Annual Meeting Memorial Day weekend to present his grand idea for a new observatory at the summit of Mount Washington. With the 50th anniversary of the first International Polar Year coinciding with this meeting Joe and Robert S. Monahan saw it as an opportunity to finally gain support to establish an observatory on Mount Washington. Later that summer, the president of the NH Academy of Science, Dartmouth professor Dr. Gilbert, made a trip to Pinkham Notch to personally deliver $400 to start the weather observatory. Shortly after receiving $400 in funding they started recording what were to be the first observations of the Mount Washington Observatory. The picture bellow is the original bank statement showing the deposit of $400 and the first few transactions from the White Mountain National Bank with Joe Dodge and Robert S. Monahan’s names at the top.

The observatory has gone through many renovations since then, but some of the instrumentation has stayed relatively the same. There have been countless upgrades through the years as technology has gotten more advanced. The severe conditions of Mount Washington create the perfect proving ground for new technology. They can be tested under the most extreme conditions and this would not be possible without the constant supervision of the summit observers. Their dedication to the atmosphere drives them to walk outside in some of themore sever weather conditions found on Earth. Past observers like Joe Dodge and Robert Monahan, who spent their whole lives around the observatory, paved the way for innovation on the mountain. Mount Washington wouldn’t have held the record for highest recorded surface wind speed if someone didn’t clear the ice off the anemometer (pictured below). It’s a task that may seem simple but is anything when winds are well over 100-mph wth riming and driving snow.


The most notable weather instrument of the 1930s would have to be the heated anemometer. It is the same instrument that was responsible for recording the 231 mph wind gust on April 12th, 1934. The original anemometer that recorded this record wind is pictured below. At the time, it was a cutting edge piece of technology. It had a coil heater built into it (pictured below) which made a more reliable instrument during rime icing conditions. It allowed observers to record more accurate measurment of wind speeds to use for their calculations. Their work at the summit was at the forefront of meteorological observations. They pushed technology to become more accurate and reliable so that observers all over the world could get better observations themselves. This technological pursuit is still taking place nearly 87 years later with the current development of the next generation pitot tube anemometer.



Charlie Peachey, IT Intern

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