Worcester Reed Warner

Worcester Reed Warner - Manufacturing and Processing

Charter member and past president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Worcester Reed Warner (1846 – 1929) was a highly skilled mechanical engineer, machinist, astronomer, and philanthropist.

Warner was born on a farm in Cummington, MA, on May 16, 1846. While he had little interest in farming, he was intrigued by machinery and fascinated by astronomy. He spent much time in his father's carriage house building and tinkering with various devices. The first tool that he built was a lathe, which became instrumental in the success of the Warner and Swasey Company to be founded in the coming years. He also built several crude telescopes to help him study the skies.

He began his career at 19 years of age working in the drafting room of a Boston machine shop. He was transferred to another branch of the company in Exeter, NH, where he became close friends with another 19 year-old, Ambrose Swasey. The two developed a close friendship and later became apprentices at Pratt & Whitney in Hartford, CT.

Warner and Swasey opened their own machine tool business in Chicago in 1880 and later moved to Cleveland, where they found more skilled mechanics to work in their shop. They began making sewing machines and lathes, but Warner's interest in astronomy steered them towards designing telescopes. Beloit College purchased the company's first telescope that year and they soon became known for building refractor telescopes and equatorial mounts, known for their accurate and reliable drive mechanisms. They also produced range-finders, gun sights, and field telescopes for the United States government. After 1900, the company concentrated on producing machine tools, but continued to make some of the largest telescopes in the world, including one for the U.S. Naval Observatory and University of California Lick Observatory, until 1970.

In 1918, Warner and Swasey donated a 9-inch refractor telescope to Case School of Applied Science, which later became Case Western Reserve University. A year later, they funded the building of an observatory to house the telescope and other scientific instruments for teaching and researching astronomy. The Warner Swasey Observatory was dedicated in 1920. In 1939, the observatory was expanded to include a new telescope, auditorium, and exhibit hall to serve the growing interest in astronomy at the university and surrounding community.

Warner became close friends with his neighbor in Tarrytown, NY, John D. Rockefeller, and the two were often seen socializing together. Warner and his wife, Cornelia Blakemore, whom he married in 1890, continued their philanthropy in Tarrytown, where they had built a mansion. They contributed to the Tarrytown Hospital, YMCA, and the Neighborhood House and Community Chest. They also paid off the mortgage for the First Reformed Church of Tarrytown. Their greatest gift was the donation of $300,000 to build the Warner Library.

Warner received a degree in mechanical science in 1897 and an engineering degree in 1925. He was a member of the British and American Astronomical Societies and the 16th president of the ASME. Warner's passion for astronomy remained strong throughout his life and he was honored when a crater on the moon was named after him. He continues to be remembered by the Worcester Reed Warner Medal, which is awarded annually by the ASME for outstanding contribution to the permanent literature of engineering.

Warner passed away in 1929 while on a trip to Germany. Clyde Fisher, in an article entitled, "Worcester Reed Warner, Astronomical Engineer," written in 1930 for Popular Astronomy, wrote the following: "Our friend Worcester Reed Warner might have been appropriately selected as the title of this article, for all who knew this man were his devoted friends. This includes especially his professional colleagues in mechanical engineering and in astronomy, although he would not have admitted that he was a professional astronomer; it also includes his co-workers in other branches of engineering and thousands of persons who came under his influence through their interest in the stars or because of his unselfish kindness and inspiring personality. Truly, he had a host of friends scattered over the world."

Tom Ricci is the owner of Ricci Communications.

They began making sewing machines and lathes, but Warner's interest in astronomy steered them towards designing telescopes.


July 2012

by Tom Ricci, ASME.org