The History of the Korkosz Projector and the Seymour Planetarium.
 By Richard Sanderson

Frank and John Korkosz


For 40 years, Frank Korkosz' planetarium shows brought the night sky to generations of Western Massachusetts school children. He was also a good friend to area amateur astronomers. He helped established the strong tradition of cooperation between the Springfield Science Museum and the STARS Club.  Frank Korkosz was born in Clearance, Pennsylvania in 1903. Haley's Comet's 1910 appearance left a life-time interest in the night sky. Two years later, Korkosz used an empty dynamite box, a carbide lamp, and a lens to create a comet projector. He charged neighborhood kids a penny a piece for his comet shows.

The Korkosz family later moved to Chicopee, Massachusetts. In 1930 Frank went to work for the nearby Springfield Museum of Natural History as a technician. He demonstrated his mechanical abilities by constructing a large fresh water aquarium, and other museum exhibits. In 1934, Frank and his talented brother John began work on the first optical projection planetarium built in the United States.  John was a machinist by trade and did much of the metal work on the two Korkosz projectors. (The Rosicrucians of San Jose, California built the first planetarium in the United States. It used "pinhole" projection.)

The Seymour Planetarium (named in honor of Stephen Seymour, a major donator) was dedicated on October 20, 1937. At the time of the planetarium's dedication, only 5 other planetariums were in operation in the United States. (The 4 other planetariums used German built Zeiss projectors.)  For the next two decades, Frank Korkosz presented 10,000 planetarium shows that
reached nearly 1 million people. During World War II Korkosz used the planetarium to teach celestial navigation to pilots stationed at Westover Air force Base.  In 1958, Korkosz was appointed director of the museum, a position he held until his retirement in 1974. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Western New England College in 1964. Frank Korkosz died in 1987.

The 1996 Restoration
Written By Steve Pielock
Photo's By Richard Sanderson

On a cold day in January of 1996 at the tail end of the Blizzard of 96,  I met with  Robin Symonds and Rich Sanderson at the Springfield Science Museum.  Robin is the planetarium director at the Seymour Planetarium.  Rich is an "Astronomy Historian" and past lecturer at the Korkosz Planetarium, he is also the only person of the three of us to have been part of the last cleaning and maintenance to the machine some 20 years ago.  Rich would prove to be a valuable resource throughout the project.

Removing the 41 Star Field Projectors, Rich Sanderson  (Left)  Steve Pielock (Right)

The first priority was to document and remove each of the 41 star field projectors from the main star ball. Each projector was removed individually and numbered to avoid any mix up of the order with the projectors.

41 Star Field Projectors

With all the star field projectors out of the main star ball the next step was to inspect the electrical and mechanical aspects of the projector.  I found that electrically it was quite sound and mechanically it was built like a tank!  Other than a general cleaning to remove 20 years of dust and grease from the main body of the projector, it was in fine shape.  Next on the hit list was a full disassembly of all the individual star field projectors for cleaning of the optics and repairing of their star plates...

Here I am removing the optics for cleaning

This was a long and tedious job, each projector had 8 lens surfaces to clean, one star plate to clean and repair (as needed) and a horizon blocking mechanism to clean and lubricate.  This process took three days to clean and repair all 41 projectors.  Each projector seemed to have its own unique set of problems.  Some had their horizon cut-off mechanisms not working at all, others projectors needed adjustments to constellation patterns.  All of them suffered from 4th and 5th magnitude star apertures being plugged solid with dust.

Cleaning horizon cut off projectors (Left).  Restored horizon cut off  (right).

Some of the star field plates themselves had unique problems that we needed to deal with, this plate had several large holes in it as well as some misplaced star patterns. We used Kodak metallic slide blocking tape to repair the damage to several of the aluminum plates.

Myself and Robin Symonds inspect the Star Field Plate                            Restored Star Field Plate

When we were finished with the project the most dramatic improvement to the machine was the amount of new stars that were now visible due to the cleaning.  Most 4th and 5th magnitude stars that were not projecting before the restoration are back in all their glory!

In the late 1950's Frank and John Korkosz did build another larger planetarium for the Hayden Planetarium in Boston MA. It used separate lamps for each of the different magnitude stars that it projected which I am told gave a very realistic star field.

This projector (pictured below) was replaced by a Zeiss projector in the mid 1970's because of a lack of spare parts for this Korkosz machine.  The fact that it couldn't project the planets, was also a large factor in the decision to replace that machine.

The second and last projector built by the Korkosz brothers,  John (Left) and Frank (Right).  This machine was located in the Boston Museum of Science, Hayden Planetarium.

The Seymour Planetarium is located in Springfield Massachusetts at the Springfield Museum of Science.  If your ever in the area stop in and see the Historic Korkosz Planetarium Projector, the oldest American built planetarium still in operation with show daily.

Back to Main Page