Adolphe Hirsch (1830-1901), founder and first director of the Neuchâtel Observatory, 1858-1901

Adolphe Hirsch (1830-1901) © Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, Neuchâtel

During the first part of the 19th century, the Swiss precision watchmaking industry was placed at a disadvantage for having no official institution to control their capability of delevering a certificate of guarantee to ensure the quality of their chronometers. Adolphe Hirsch (1830-1901), a young german astronomer, born in Halberstadt, came to Neuchâtel hired by the local polotical authority to create a new astronomic observatory. To ensure the international scientific reputation of this research institut, he ensured that it would be equipped with the necessary instruments to persue scientific activity of high quality. In a very short time he managed to achive his aims and the perfect running of the control of watch production. From his arrival in Switzerland, he was a very active member of the local scientific Society with important contributions in meteorology, geodesy and astronomy.

Hirsch surrounded by the permanent members of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris. (Adolphe Hirsch (1830-1901) : directeur de l’Observatoire de Neuchâtel de 1858 à 1901 – Bulletin de la Société Neuchâteloise des Sciences Naturelles)

Founder member of the Swiss Geodesic Commission of which he was a very active secretary for many years before becoming president, he took an active part in the first precise levelling of Switzerland and in many activities concerning the national triangulation of his day. On an international level, he drew attention to the necessity of starting unification in measure units and was one of the first to ask for the fondation of a neutral and indépendant International Bureau of Weights and Measures of which he was elected as secretary general of its directory committee. With his enthusiasm and his reliability, he contributed to its international recognition. Hirsch played an emminent role in the international agreement to make the Greenwich meridian as the basis for universal time. A man of integrety and optimism, Hirsch appears as a perfect representative of many scientists of his time who belived in the almost unlimited benefits of science and technology for the development of civilisation.

(L’Observatoire Cantonal neuchâtelois 1858-1912)

Divorced and without descendants, Hirsch bequeathed his fortune to the State of Neuchâtel for the development of the observatory. He died on 16 April 1901 in Neuchâtel. The Hirsch Pavilion was built in 1912 with his legacy. The entrance of the building is a memorial in his honor.

“The government of Neuchâtel will apply the fortune I am leaving it […] entirely to the enlargement and development of the Observatory and mainly to the acquisition of a large equatorial telescope with an objective of about twelve inches of aperture, equipped with a precision micrometer, as well as a spectroscope and other auxiliary equipment, at a price of CHF 40,000 to CHF 50,000. This large telescope will be installed in a tower with a dome to be built on the Observatory’s grounds.”
Adolphe Hirsch, First director of the Neuchâtel Observatory from 1858 to 1901

Adolphe Hirsch (1830-1901) : directeur de l’Observatoire de Neuchâtel de 1858 à 1901.
Burgat-dit-Grellet, Mika, Schaer, Jean-Paul
Bulletin de la Société Neuchâteloise des Sciences Naturelles, 2001, Vol.124, p.23