Ellicot Douglass was born on July 5, 1867 in Windsor, Vermont. He
was educated at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and graduated
with honors in 1889. After his graduation, he began working for Harvard
Observatory. He served as the chief assistant on Harvard's Boyden
expedition (1891-1893), which founded the Harvard Southern Hemisphere Observatory
in Arequipa, Peru. After returning from Peru, he met Percival Lowell
in Boston. Lowell hired Douglass to travel to Arizona to determine
where the best place in that territory would be to build an observatory.
Douglass traveled throughout Arizona in 1894, eventually settling on Flagstaff
as the best location. He chose a spot on a mesa outside of town and
supervised the construction of the dome which housed the 18-inch telescope
that he and Percival Lowell used to observe Mars.
After the founding of Lowell Observatory in 1894, Douglass stayed on for seven years as Percival Lowell's chief assistant. During this time, he provided a great quantity of data regarding Mars which Lowell used to support his theories about the existence of an intelligent, canal-building Martian civilization. Lowell and Douglass, however, clashed several times over Douglassís opinion that Lowell used data selectively (and thus unscientifically and inaccurately) to prove his theories. Lowell eventually lost patience with Douglass and sacked him for this opinion in 1901.
After his termination, Douglass stayed in Flagstaff until 1906 teaching Spanish, Spanish History and Geography at the Northern Arizona Normal School, now Northern Arizona University. He also ran and won the race for probate judge - now called the Justice of the Peace - in 1902. During his time in Flagstaff, Douglass became interested in tree rings, and specifically in using tree rings as a record of previous solar cycles as well as a method of predicting future solar cycles.
When Douglass relocated to Tucson in 1906, he began teaching at the University of Arizona. His most important scientific accomplishment while in this position was the creation of dendrochronology, more commonly known as the science of using tree rings to determine the age of a particular piece of wood. He finally established an unbroken sequence of yellow pine (or Ponderosa) tree rings stretching far enough back into history to conclusively date ancient Native American structures in 1929. This accomplishment was widely hailed as one of the most important in archeology by both scientists and laymen alike.
Douglass was also active in astronomy during his time at the University of Arizona. In 1916, he came into contact with Mrs. Lavinia Steward and her husband, who was interested in astronomy. When Mr. Steward passed away, Mrs. Steward donated $60,000 to the University of Arizona in order to build an observatory. Steward Observatory was completed in 1923 with a 36-inch reflecting telescope. It was eventually moved to Kitt Peak when the city of Tucson became too large to see well, and remains active to this day. Douglass served as the Observatory's director until his retirement in 1937, at which time he devoted his full energies to the study of dendrochronology.
Douglass remained active until he was finally incapacitated by illness two years before his death on March 20, 1962 at the age of 94.
For an image of A.E. Douglass, click here.
Correspondence: 3 letter size boxes.
Working Papers: 4 letter size boxes and 1 legal size box.