Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century
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SAFFORD, Truman Henry, mathematician, born in Royalton, Vermont, 6 January, 1836. At an early age he attracted public attention by his remarkable powers of calculation. When six years of age, he told his mother if. she knew the number of rods it was around a certain meadow he could tell its circumference in barleycorns, and on hearing that the number of rods was 1,040 he gave the number mentally as 617,760 barleycorns, which is correct. He could mentally extract the square and cube roots of numbers of 9 and 10 places of figures, and could multiply four figures by four figures mentally as rapidly as it could be done upon paper. In 1845 he prepared an almanac, and at the age of fourteen calculated the elliptic elements of the first comet of 1849. At this time he became widely known as the Vermont boy-calculator. By a method of his own he abridged by one fourth the labor of calculating the rising and setting of the moon. After long and difficult problems had been read to him once, he could give their results without effort. Professor Benjamin Peirce said of him in 1846 that his knowledge "is accompanied with powers of abstraction and concentration rarely possessed at any age except by minds of the highest order." He was graduated at Harvard in 1854, after which he spent there several years in study at the observatory. Between 1850 and 1862 he computed the orbits of many planets and comets. In 1863-'6 he was connected with the Harvard observatory, in the last year acting as its director, but he was chiefly employed in observations for a standard catalogue of right ascensions. In 1865 he was appointed professor of astronomy in the University of Chicago, and director of the Dearborn observatory. His first two years there were devoted to the study of nebula, and he discovered many new ones. From 1869 till 1871 he was engaged upon the great catalogue of stars that is in course of preparation by the co-operation of European and American astronomers. His work was interrupted by the Chicago fire of 1871, and after that year he was much employed in latitude and longitude work in the territories by the United States corps of engineers, for whom he also prepared a star catalogue, which was published by the war department. He published a second in 1879. Since 1876 he has been professor of astronomy at Williams college, which gave him the degree of Ph.D. in 1878. He is a member of various astronomical societies, and has edited volumes iv, and v. of the "Annals of Harvard College Observatory," the latter one containing the report of Professor George P. Bond's discoveries in the constellation of Orion, which Professor Safford completed after Professor Bond's death. His other contributions have appeared in the "Proceedings of the American Academy," the monthly notices of the Royal astronomical society, and other astronomical journals. He is now (1888) preparing a catalogue of polar stars as a memorial of the 50th anniversary of the observatory of Williams college.
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