Founding the AAAP

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Chester Bertram Roe and the AAAP

I n an effort to bring together telescope makers from the Pittsburgh area, he contacted Chester Bertram Roe of Avalon, a movie theater projectionist whose address had appeared in the Scientific American article on telescope making. Roe had also attempted (and failed) to form a telescope builders' club, using names collected from articles and meetings. The two met, combined their existing lists of names and researched other sources of prospective candidates including library cards for borrowed astronomy books and store sales records for telescope-making materials. Upon completing an initial list, Leo and Chester sent out hand-written invitation cards to attend the first meeting of a new organization to be known as the "Amateur Telescope Makers of Pittsburgh," which was soon changed to the "Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh."

Leo, Roe and Garland
Leo, AAAP member Fred Garland (center) and club co-founder Chester Row (right) at the Springfield Telescope in Valley View Observatory, October 1938
(AAAP Archives)
Seven people acknowledged the invitation and four attended the first meeting on June 9, 1929 in the basement of the Calvary Community House on Allegheny Ave. A decision was reached to hold monthly meetings. "That's a good start," recalled Leo. "Four is enough. We didn't care. We just thought 'Here are people of equal interest; they knew something about what we were doing. Some of these guys had already made telescopes. We've got it made.' " Leo served as the AAAP's Secretary-Treasurer for its first ten years.

Leo's interest in astronomy was enhanced by a trip (the first of many) to Springfield, Vermont in August of 1930, where other amateur observers and telescope builders were holding a convention. Springfield was considered the home of amateur telescope making at the time. Leo brought along his first home-made telescope, mingled with many of the leading telescope experts in the country (most notably Russell Porter, who was considered the father of amateur telescope making), and collected names of others who had corresponded with these experts.
Leo and Russell Porter
Leo (left) meets with friend and mentor Russell Porter
(AAAP Archives)

National Home of Amateur Telescope Making

A key part of Leo's work and travel pertaining to telescope making were his detailed technical diaries, which included photos as well as text and diagrams. He produced these diaries until his marriage in 1940. (In 1975, Leo donated some of his diaries to a science museum in Springfield.)

Throughout his career as a telescope maker, Leo was well known for his generosity with advice and hands-on help to other telescope makers and users. He even sold some of his own telescopes to budding amateurs, including Bob Feller, a famous pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, who bought a Scanlon model while he was in the Navy.

Any mistakes or problems with a telescope-making effort were simply a source of humor for Leo. In once instance, he and brother Larry were removing a sharp edge from another member's 6" mirror when it fell from the table and broke into three large pieces. Instead of ‘fessing up' to the accident, Leo and Larry decided to grind and polish an identical, all-new mirror in hopes that its owner would not notice the difference. Ordinarily, a complete mirror grinding/polishing project would take days or weeks. Leo and his partner in crime stayed up all night and successfully produced the replacement mirror; later the same day they presented it to its unsuspecting owner. About a year later, the owner again complimented Leo and Larry on their workmanship and added "How did you manage to remove the two air bubbles from the glass?", which were present in the original blank.

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