Buhl Planetarium

Buhl Planetarium - October 1939
The Buhl Planetarium stands next to the Carnegie Music Hall in October of 1939.

The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science first opened its doors on October 24, 1939 (shown above at the time of it's opening) on Pittsburgh’s North Side. It is built on the site of the old Allegheny City Hall, next to the Carnegie Music Hall and the Allegheny Post Office, and was the fifth major planetarium in the United States, joining those in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

The building was designed by architects Ingham, Pratt & Boyd and built at a cost of $1,070,000 by the Buhl Foundation, which was established in the will of North Side businessman Henry Buhl. The planetarium featured a 492-seat “Theater of the Stars” with a 65-foot diameter octagonal copper dome. The Buhl foundation, which began in 1927 with a $15,000,000 gift from the Buhl family, donated the planetarium to the city of Pittsburgh.

The Buhl Planetarium - 1950s    The Buhl Planetarium - 1950s
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The Buhl Planetarium quickly established itself and the city of Pittsburgh as leaders in the area of informal science education. During 1940, during the first full year of operation, nearly 200,000 visitors were introduced to the wonders of the Universe in a revolutionary environment that foreshadowed the experience of modern science centers.

Guests were thrilled to gaze at images of the night skies produced by the Zeiss Model II electro-mechanical projector, which rose from the theater floor like a phantom menace. The projector was built for $135,000 in Jena, Germany, and contained 106 lenses capable of producing 9000 images of stars.

The Zeiss Model II electro-mechanical projector at the Buhl Planetarium.    The Miniature Railroad and Village
The Zeiss Model II electro-mechanical projector and the Miniature Railroad at the Buhl Planetarium.

The Exhibit Hall at the Buhl Planetarium.    The Foucault Pendulum at the Buhl Planetarium.
The Exhibit Hall and the Foucault Pendulum at the Buhl Planetarium.

On the planetarium’s roof, a ten-inch siderostat-type refractor telescope allowed visitors to follow stars and planets across the night sky. It was the first such telescope designed for public use rather than astronomical research. Another popular attraction at the planetarium was the Miniature Railroad and Village, which attracted model train enthusiasts, both young and old, to gaze at the model trains passing through the wonderful scale village and landscape.

Laser Light Shows were another big hit that attracted big crowds. Synchonized to the beat of the popular songs of the period, the lasers would light up the planetarium ceiling in a kaleidoscope of colors while music filled the auditorium. Hundred of thousands of Pittsburghers remember trips to Planetarium in the 1940s through the 1980s.

Buhl Planetarium - October 1939

In 1982, the Buhl Planetarium became the Buhl Science Center and began plans to relocate to a prime parcel of land on the Ohio River, just below the current Heinz Field. In 1987, the Buhl Science Center merged with Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

Five years later, in 1991, with the construction of the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore, the Buhl Planetarium moved to a new home. The Carnegie Science Center gave Pittsburgh a world-class learning environment and a state-of-the-art planetarium facility, designed to give Buhl the tools needed to carry on it's mission well into the 21st century.

Postcard image of the Buhl Planetarium

The Buhl Planetarium on the North Side was officially closed in 1994. It was added to the List of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation Historic Landmarks in 2001, and the List of City of Pittsburgh historic designations on July 29, 2005. Since February 2003, the building, which still houses unique astronomical equipment of historic significance, like the Foucault Pendulum, has been part of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

For more information on the Henry Buhl Jr Planetarium and Observatory, click here.

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The Buhl Planetarium Under Construction

Buhl Planetarium Design

Buhl Planetarium Construction - 1938    Buhl Planetarium Construction - 1938

Buhl Planetarium Construction - 1938    Buhl Planetarium Construction - 1938

Buhl Planetarium Construction - 1938    Buhl Planetarium Construction - 1938

Buhl Planetarium Construction - 1938    Buhl Planetarium Construction - 1938

Buhl Planetarium Construction - 1938

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