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Henry W. Spreitzer (1913–1999)

Published onDec 01, 2000
Henry W. Spreitzer (1913–1999)

"Hank" Spreitzer was born and educated in, and remained a lifelong resident of, Cleveland, Ohio. He was affiliated with several astronomical institutions in that city and was a long-term member of the American Astronomical Society. After graduating from Maple Heights High School in 1932, Spreitzer served for several years with the Civilian Conservation Corps in the state parks of Colorado and Kentucky before joining the Warner and Swasey Company of Cleveland in 1936 as an elevator operator. In his lengthy career with Warner and Swasey, Spreitzer gained practical experience as a machinist in their production departments and as a draftsman in engineering development before being promoted to status as an engineer.

One of the major development areas in which he worked after World War II was the design of radar antennae for military applications. Spreitzer studied engineering at night school, receiving a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in 1962. At the time of his retirement in 1980, Spreitzer was a senior development engineer at Warner and Swasey.

The United States Patent office awarded Spreitzer three patents for machinery innovations; he was a co-inventor on a fourth patent. Spreitzer met Jason J. Nassau, director of the Warner and Swasey Observatory of Case Institute of Technology, through the latter's long term relationship with his employers at the Cleveland machine tool firm. Nassau was also the president of the Cleveland Astronomical Society (CAS), and invited Spreitzer to join that organization. Spreitzer served as the CAS treasurer from 1962 to 1966, and was elected a member of the CAS executive committee from 1967 unti1 1981. He remained a faithful CAS member to the end of his life.

From the early 1950s through his retirement from Warner and Swasey, Spreitzer was the engineer who handled all that firm's telescope design and construction work. One such project in the late 1950s was the restoration and relocation of a 10-inch Brashear/Warner and Swasey refractor from the observatory of Western Reserve University to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The museum's Ralph Mueller Observatory facilities were dedicated in 1960.

During the 1960s Spreitzer handled a similar restoration of the historical 9-inch Brashear refractor of CWRU's Warner and Swasey Observatory. In 1891, Ambrose Swasey (1846-1937) and Worcester Reed Warner (1846-1933), founders of the firm that bears their names, lived in adjacent homes in Cleveland. They built an observatory between their homes and equipped it with this instrument, which they shared for their astronomical pleasure. In 1919 they donated the observatory with its telescope, other instruments and library to the Case Institute of Technology. The Warner and Swasey Observatory formed the basis for that institution's early astronomy program. Spreitzer's refurbishment of this historical instrument was extremely well executed and earned plaudits from Brashear enthusiasts as well as the CWRU faculty. When CWRU purchased a Warner and Swasey 36-inch Cassegrain reflector in 1957, Spreitzer was the project engineer for this instrument. In 1966, Spreitzer assisted with the relocation of the University of Michigan's Curtis Schmidt telescope from Portage Lake, Michigan to the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

As his final assignment while employed by Warner and Swasey, Spreitzer was also a participant in the relocation of the CWRU Burrell Schmidt telescope, a twin of the Curtis instrument, when the Burrell was relocated from Cleveland to Kitt Peak National Astronomical Optical Observatory in 1979. Thus, telescopes appear to have been Spreitzer's primary interest in astronomy. He was not noted for any special observational or theoretical interests. Quiet and unassuming, Spreitzer enjoyed his association with things astronomical. CAS members and the observatory staff appreciated his low key and very dry sense of humor.

Spreitzer never married, but is survived by two sisters, Eleanor R. Kless of Mayfield Heights, Ohio and Marie R. Marshall of Hinckley, Ohio. He passed away on 7 August 1999. This obituary benefitted from the comments of Peter Pesch, emeritus director of the Warner and Swasey Observatory, Charles Knox, an associate astronomer of that observatory, and Clyde Simpson, of the Cleveland Astronomical Society and Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Their assistance is gratefully acknowledged.

Photo courtesy of Eleanor Kless

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