Abbott Lawrence Rotch

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From the title page of The Conquest of the Air (1909)
Diagram from The Conquest of the Air (1909) showing pressure, mountains, and cloud types by altitude

Abbott Lawrence Rotch (1861–1912) was the founding president of the Aero Club of New England and the Harvard Aeronautical Society, and the creator of Blue Hill Observatory. He used balloons to study the weather and became Harvard's first professor of meteorology.

Biography and achievements

Rotch graduated from MIT in 1884 and changed his focus from engineering to meteorology. He created the Blue Hill Observatory in 1885, and financed it himself, but it also became a nominal department of Harvard.[1] From 1888–1891 and 1902–1906 he had an appointment as "assistant in meteorology" at Harvard, with no salary and no teaching; in 1906 he was made the first professor of meteorology. In 1908–1909 he taught "Geology 20f" and opened the Blue Hill Observatory to students.[2]

He introduced the "cyclostyle" weather map in 1886. This innovation, made with the Signal Service in Boston, spread to the rest of the Signal Service (part of the War Department) nationwide.[2][3]

On 4 August 1984, Rotch deployed a string of 5 kites with a thermograph from Blue Hill, initiating a regular practice of using kites for temperature and pressure measurements.[4]

He is credited with making the first kite observations on a calm day, in 1901, by raising the kite from a moving boat. The same year, he made a series of observations from the deck of a steamer crossing the Atlantic.[5][2]

In 1904 he used sounding balloons at altitudes of 5–10 miles.[2]

In 1905–1906 he participated in an expedition to the tropical Atlantic with Teisserenc de Bort to explore the atmosphere with kites and balloons.[2]

In 1909 he made the first trigonometric measurements of pilot balloon flights in the U.S.[2]

Rotch reported diligently on the first six meetings of the International Commission for Scientific Aeronautics, and on other international meetings.

In September 1909, Rotch published a popular history of aviation entitled The Conquest of the Air.


Other positions and honors

  • Lecturer at Lowell Institute, Boston, in 1891 and 1891
  • Member of International Jury of Awards, 1889 Paris Exposition
  • Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France
  • Order of the Crown, Prussia (1902)
  • Order of the Red Eagle, Prussia (1905)
  • Selected as exchange professor at the Sorbonne for 1912–1913[2]

Selected publications



  1. John Lenger, "Conquest of the Air", Harvard Magazine, May-June 2003.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Robert De C. Ward, "Abbott Lawrence Rotch", Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 48, No. 21, September 1913.
  3. Annual Report of the Chief Signal Officer, United States Army, to the Secretary of War, 1887; p. 27.
  4. John H. Conover, "Highlights of the History of the Blue Hill Observatory and the Early Days of the American Meteorological Society", Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 66 No.1, January 1985.
  5. Hugo Hergesell, "Report on the Proceedings of the International Committee for Scientific Aeronautics", Report of the International Meteorological Committee: Southport, 1903; Published by Authority of the Meteorological Council; London: printed for His Majesty's Stationary Office by Darling & Son, Ltd., 34–40, Bacon Street, E; 1904; pp. 26–34; p. 29.

Publications by or about Abbott Lawrence Rotch

Names Abbott Lawrence Rotch
Birth date 1861
Death date 1912
Countries US
Locations Dorchester, Massachusetts
Occupations meteorologist
Tech areas Meteorology, Kite, Balloon, Ballon-sonde
Affiliations Blue Hill Observatory, Aero Club of New England, Harvard Aeronautical Society, International Commission for Scientific Aeronautics
Wikidata id Q306767