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Georgetown University Seismological Observatory

This guide identifies and provides an overview of resources available in the University Archives which are useful for research into the Georgetown University Seismological Observatory

Introduction and Overview


This guide identifies and provides an overview of resources available in the University Archives which are useful for research into the Georgetown University Seismological Observatory which was active between 1910 and the early 1970s. Use the tabs to the left to navigate through the content. Resources that are available online are identified. However, researchers should anticipate spending much more time working with physical materials than with digital surrogates. All of the resources described below are available for use in the University archives; request them via the Aeon request system

Researchers are also encouraged to explore the descriptions of other materials in the University Archives collection through the Georgetown Archival Resources site. Use the search box or the search icon in the gray row at the top of the screen to begin exploring. Additional search words can be added to the results screen using the Filter Results box to the right. Note that not all resources in the University Archives are described on the Georgetown Archival Resources site; Archives staff are very happy to discuss research projects and to direct researchers to additional resources.

The University Archives is located in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections on the 5th floor of Georgetown’s Lauinger Library. The Booth Family Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Reference inquiries may be made in person, by telephone (202-687-7631) or via our email form

Brief History of the Seismological Observatory




The observatory was set up after a decision by the Jesuit Order to equip their educational institutions in the U.S. to study earthquakes and thus form the Jesuit Seismological Service.  This Service was the idea of Fr. Frederick L. Odenbach, S.J., of St. Ignatius College (later John Carroll University) in Cleveland, Ohio. Father Odenbach was the first Jesuit in the U.S. to install a seismograph; he set one up at St. Ignatius College in 1900. At least 12 Jesuit schools colleges in the U.S. and one in Canada acquired Wiechert NE 80 kg seismographs between 1908 and 1912.  

Georgetown received its Wiechert NE 80 kg in 1910. It was paid for by Patrick H. O’Donnell, L’1894. By 1912, the Seismological Observatory at Georgetown was situated in a  specially constructed room in the cellar of Maguire Hall, and contained four additional seismographs: a Bosch-Omori NE 25 kg, a Bosch-photog NE 200 kg, a Wiechert ZNE 200 kg, and a Mainka NE 135 kg. A Gallitzin ZNE was added in 1923 and a WWSSN in 1961. An account found in the University Archives, possibly authored by Father Francis A. Heyden, S.J., helps date the end of the active use of seismographs on campus as it states In 1970 the instruments were taken over by Physics, but after their removal to the new science laboratory were not put into operation.


Observatory Locations


Various accounts in the archives identify the use of  locations other than Maguire to house seismographic equipment. Before Maguire, at least two locations seem to have been tried and abandoned as being non-optimal: a stone block house near the Observatory and the base of the south tower of Healy Hall. Additionally, a vault under Dahlgren Chapel appears to have been used through the early 1930s.


Observatory Staff


A succession of Jesuits directed the work of the Seismological Observatory. The first director was Father Francis A. Tondorf who died in 1929. He was assisted by Brother Charles J. Ramage. Father Tondorf was succeeded by Father Frederick W. Sohon, with  Father John S. O’Conor acting as director during Father Sohon’s temporary absences. Later Father Edward Powers, followed by Father Francis Hyeden, who was assisted by Father Bernard McConnell, assumed responsibility for the instruments.

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