Born Lichtenau, (Hessen, Germany), 2 October 1861
Died Berlin, Germany, 14 October 1939
Astronomy popularizer Friedrich Archenhold completed his secondary education at the Realgymnasium in Lippstadt. In 1882, he began to study the natural sciences at the Friedrich Wilhelm University (now Humboldt University) in Berlin. There, Archenhold came under the influence of Wilhelm Förster, director of the Berlin University Observatory, who was committed to diffusing scientific knowledge among the public. In 1888, Förster cofounded the Urania Society as an outreach function of Science.
From 1890 to 1895, Archenhold served as astronomer and manager of the Grunewald Observatory, a small station located outside the city of Berlin. In 1893, he began a campaign to construct a large telescope in Germany. Three years later, this was accomplished with construction of the longest refracting telescope in the world, a 26.8-in. (68-cm) objective with a focal length of 69 ft. (21 m), financed by private donations. The new Treptow Observatory had an original, timber-supported framework (as demonstrated at the Treptow Industrial Exhibition of 1896). That wooden structure was replaced, however, when the present main building was constructed in 1908–1909. Archenhold served as director of the Treptow Observatory from 1896 to 1931.
Archenhold developed an active program of events and publications, while the observatory itself was supported by a voluntary organization. In 1900, he founded the popular astronomical magazine Das Weltall (The Universe), which was published until 1944. He also traveled widely to places such as Sweden, Great Britain, Spain, and the United States. In 1907, Archenhold was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Western University of Pennsylvania. Always interested in the educational potential of new media, he established a “cinematographic study society” to aid the production of scientific films (1913). Archenhold was also a leading member of the Panterra Organization that promoted international research projects of a peaceful nature. He subscribed to the Jewish faith.
Archenhold resigned his post in 1931 at the age of 70. After the Nazis came to power, his family members were gradually expelled from the observatory. His sons Horst and Günter (who also became an astronomer) immigrated to England, but Archenhold’s wife Alice and daughter Hilde lost their lives in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Archenhold was an original and, on occasion, a somewhat outlandish personality and the subject of countless anecdotes. From his broad outlook, he successfully advocated the placement of large astronomical telescopes on mountaintops, the construction of a projection planetarium in Berlin, and the production of inexpensive telescopes for school districts. In 1946, the Treptow Observatory was renamed the Archenhold Observatory after its founder.
Translated by Peter Nockolds.