History

Timeline of planetarium history:

Just follow the links set on the year dates below or scroll down to the whole history of planetariums.

1923 first planetarium projector by ZEISS
1925 first projection planetarium at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany
1926 first “dumbbell” planetarium projector (Zeiss Planetariums Mark II) at the Planetarium in Barmen, Germany
1930 first planetarium outside of Europe: Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois.
1931 the „Sternkammer“ („star chamber“) was built in a school in Lübeck, Germany
1936 three unique planetarium projectors were created in the United States
1937 first planetarium to open in Asia: Osaka planetarium
1947 first production model of the Spitz Model A planetarium projector
1948 first portable planetarium was introduced in Boston, Massachusetts
1955 first Planetarium in Latin America was the Planetario de Montevideo
1957/59 first planetarium projectors made in Asia, by Konica Minolta and by Goto.
And 1959 Oceania’s first planetarium was the Auckland War Memorial Museum Planetarium.
1960-1975 NASA astronauts trained for programs in the Morehead Planetarium
1960 Wits Planetarium in Johannesburg was the first planetarium in Africa
1968 the first commercially available special effects projectors were made by Sky-Skan
1970 ISPE, the International Society of Planetarium Eductaors, was founded
1973 premier of laser music concerts in planetariums
1983 the first digital (vector graphics based) projection system was installed at the Science Museum of Virginiaof Virginia: Digistar(I) by Evans&Sutherland
1990 an IPS conference was hosted outside of North America for the first time.
late 1990s and early 2000s fulldome video planetarium projection was born
2001 novel architectural concept: the open floor plan planetarium
2007 Domecasting was first introduced

1923

First Light of the first planetarium projector; ZEISS Planetariums’ Mark I, happened on 16 September 1923. A month later, it was presented in a closed session to officials at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. The first public appearance of the projector, dubbed the “The Wonder Of Jena”, was in Jena in early 1924.

The world’s first planetarium projector, the Carl Zeiss Mark I in the factory in 1923.
The Mark I set up in the Deutsches Museum in Munich in 1923.

Photo Credit (both images): Carl Zeiss Jena

1925

The opening of the world’s first projection planetarium was celebrated on May 7th, 1925 at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany.

Deutsches Museum, München

1926

The first “dumbbell” planetarium projector, the Zeiss Planetariums Mark II, debuted in 1926 at the Planetarium in Barmen, Germany and was the first projector to include both the northern and southern hemispheres. Though fitted with many modern updates and produced by many different companies now, this style of projector remains popular to this day. Sadly the Barmer Planetarium was destroyed in 1943.

Andreas Scholl & Planetarium Barmen

1930

The first planetarium outside of Europe, was the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. It opened on 12 May 1930 and has been amazing visitors ever since.

A long line waits to get into the Adler Planetarium in its opening day. The building is curved with a dome on top.
A view of the original projector console. It is a large square covered in buttons and wires.

Image Credit (both images):
Adler Planetarium

1931

The world’s first non-Zeiss star projector was installed in a school in Lübeck, Germany. The projector in the „Sternkammer“ („star chamber“) was designed by teacher Dr. Hans Cassebaum and Lübeck-based company E. Nachtigall & Co, making them the second producer of planetarium projectors in the world, and most likely the first designed specifically for schools. Its patent was confirmed on June 6, 1933.

Vintage Germany-Bildagentur für historische Fotographie

1936

In the 1930s, three unique planetarium projectors were created in the United States:

The first ever US-American made star projector, which used pinhole projection, was the H. Spencer Lewis projector; seen with its creator (Lewis) in our first image.

This projector was made specifically for the planetarium in Rosicrucian Park and the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California. After seeing planetariums on a trip to Germany, Lewis felt very strongly that the park should have a location dedicated to learning astronomy. He then came back and designed his Planetarium’s projector and building himself.

The Planetarium was dedicated July 13, 1936 and the projector was enjoyed until 1950.

The second unique projector is the Korkosz Projector which was designed and built by Frank and John Korkosz for the Seymour Planetarium at Springfield Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Opto-Mechanical star projector (seen with Frank Korkosz in the next image) opened as the centerpiece of the planetarium in 1937

Image from the collection of Richard Sanderson.

… and has been used in every single show for 81 years and counting, as this piece of history is still in use today!

Image from the collection of Richard Sanderson.
This image is courtesy of Springfield Museums.

The Korkosz brothers would build their second and last projector over a decade later for the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Science Boston.

And last but not least, the third original projector was created at Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in San Francisco. After WWII, CAS wanted to build a planetarium. The problem was that they were unable to get a projector from Germany. The staff of CAS, however, had helped with repairing optics for the Navy during the war and decided to design and build their own, one-of-a-kind planetarium projector.

Image courtesy of California Academy of Sciences Archives

The projector was used for 51 years from the opening of Morrison planetarium on November 8, 1952 until CAS closed and built their new building, including a new Morrison Planetarium in 2003.

Image courtesy of California Academy of Sciences Archives
Image courtesy of California Academy of Sciences Archives

1937

The first planetarium to open in Asia was the Osaka planetarium. It opened its doors in 1937 as part of the Osaka City Electricity Science Museum in Japan. It is now a part of the Osaka Science Museum, and after renovations in 2004, it continues to enthrall visitors to this day.

Image Credit: Planetarium History Collection Andreas Scholl
Image Credit: Planetarium History Collection Andreas Scholl

1947

The first production model of the Spitz Model A planetarium projector was manufactured by Armand Spitz in 1947, and installed at Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia. This unique dodecahedron-shaped projector (a shape recommended to Spitz by Albert Einstein) was the result of two year’s work to design an inexpensive planetarium projector that could be installed in a wide range of institutions.

Image Credit: Spitz Inc.

1948

The first portable planetarium was introduced in 1948 in Boston, Massachusetts. When the traditional natural history museum in downtown Boston closed and the Museum of Science over the Charles River was being built, Museum of Science, Boston (MOS) developed a “roadshow” that would travel around the region bringing science experiments, live animals, and demonstrations to the community.

Image courtesy of Museum of Science Boston Archives

The traveling planetarium was built to bring projector shows to schools, libraries, and churches around New England. The wooden structure had an 18-foot dome, used a Spitz star projector, and could fit about 50 viewers!

Image courtesy of Museum of Science Boston Archives

Around 1951, the traveling planetarium was installed alongside the new Museum at Science Park, where it stayed in operation until the Charles Hayden Planetarium opened in 1958. The traveling dome was given to a local high school, where it remained in use until 2006.

Image courtesy of Museum of Science Boston Archives

1955

The first Planetarium in Latin America was the Planetario de Montevideo, “Agrim. Germán Barbato” in Uruguay.

Imag is courtesy of Planetario de Montevideo

The planetarium opened in 1955 and was immediately popular with the citizens of Montevideo.

Imag is courtesy of Planetario de Montevideo

The planetarium still serves its eager guests today with its Opto-Mechanical and digital systems.

Imag is courtesy of Planetario de Montevideo
Imag is courtesy of Planetario de Montevideo

1957/59

The first planetarium projectors made in Asia! The first image is courtesy of KONICA MINOLTA and shows their first projector, the Nobuoka-shiki, which premiered in 1957.

Konica Minolta Planetarium Co., Ltd

The second image is courtesy of GOTO Inc and is their M(Mars)-1, which premiered in 1959.?

Image: Goto Inc

Oceania’s first planetarium was the Auckland War Memorial Museum Planetarium. This planetarium opened in New Zealand on 22 October 1959 to the delight of its audiences.
The image shows a pre-opening demonstration of the planetarium on 6 October 1959.

Image courtesy of Auckland War Memorial Museum Library and online Collections.

1960 – 1975

When you think of NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Space Race, and what it took to land on the Moon, do you think about Planetaria? Between 1960 and 1975, over 60 astronauts trained for Project Mercury, Project Gemini, the Apollo Program, Skylab, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center!
This training was necessary to get the astronauts, many of whom did not have extensive knowledge of constellations or astronomy, able to find target stars for their guidance computers.
You can find a complete list of the astronauts who trained there here: https://moreheadplanetarium.org/about-morehead/our-history/astronauts/

Ed White and Jim McDivitt training in the Morehead Planetarium courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries

1960

The Wits Planetarium at Wits university in Johannesburg, South Africa, opened on 12 October 1960. It was the first planetarium in Africa. To expedite the opening of the planetarium, it was decided to purchase the ZEISS Mark III projector that was originally operated at Planetarium Hamburg, and have it completely factory refurbished and modernized.

Thuvack, CC license

Wits Planetarium celebrated its golden birthday in 2010 and continues to serve the Johannesburg community and beyond.

Johannesburg Planetarium

1968

In 1968, the first commercially available special effects projectors were made available to planetarians by Sky-Skan. Effects like moving clouds, rotating black holes and more no longer had to be created from whatever one could find lying around the dome and at home. These analog projectors were often used along side the homemade projectors, but they gave a planetarium the opportunity to achieve the next level of effects.

Images of a rotating effect projector and multiple effects projectors in the spring line of a planetarium:

courtesy of Sky-Skan Europe GmbH
courtesy of Sky-Skan Europe GmbH

1970

ISPE, the International Society of Planetarium Eductaors, was founded in a meeting that took place October 21-23, 1970 at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA. The first conference would follow two years later at Minolta Planetarium, DeAnza & Foothill Colleges, Cupertino, California, USA. ISPE was a predecessor of today’s International Planetarium Society, IPS. IPS has certainly grown in the last 50 years! It is truly our passion and desire to continue to grow and bring together all planetarians worldwide.

upper half: courtesy of Dave Weinrich and IPS
lower half: conference attendees from IPS’s 2018 conference in Toulouse, France, courtesy of Cité de l’espace.

1973

Rocking out to the premier of laser music concerts in planetariums, “Laserium” first appeared in domes on 19 November 1973 at the Griffith Observatory planetarium.

Image is courtesy of Brian Wirthlin/Photon Alchemy

Shows sold out constantly and soon the phenomenon was spreading to planetaria all over and bringing new visitors into the dome. Ivan Dryer’s passion for live laser performances spawned many memorable shows over the years.

Image is courtesy of Brian Wirthlin/Photon Alchemy

Today, “Laserium” shows, as well as shows from LaserFantasy, AudioVisualImagineering and many other companies continue to delight their original audiences and current generations alike.

Image is courtesy of Brian Wirthlin/Photon Alchemy


You can learn more about the history of Laserium at www.laserium.org

1983

The first digital (vector graphics based) projection system, and with it the beginning of the digital age in planetariums, was the Digistar (I) from Evans & Sutherland. It was installed at the Science Museum of Virginia in 1983. In the same year, Sky-Skan released the first digital multimedia control system for planetariums. Within the next few years many planetariums started to add one or both of these technological advancements to their domes.

top half: The Digistar Control system, with the Digistar in the pit in the middle, in the McDonnell Star Theater, Saint Louis Science Center, in 1985.
lower half: Digistar setup, images courtesy of Evans & Sutherland.
calibration test of the Sky-Skan multi-media automation system at the Michigan Science Center. Image courtesy of Anna Green

1990

In July of 1990, an IPS conference was hosted outside of North America for the first time.

Image is courtesy of IPS

The Galaxen Planetarium in Borlänge, Sweden happily took on the task of hosting, with the theme of “The Boundless Planetarium.”

Image is courtesy of IPS
Image is courtesy of IPS

late 1990s, early 2000s

The fast evolving field of fulldome video planetarium projection was born in the late 1990s: At the IPS conference in Osaka, Japan in 1996, GOTO shared a demonstration of the world’s first fulldome video projection system: “Virtuarium”

courtesy of Goto Inc.

Shortly after, in 1998, Sky-Skan released “SkyVision”, the world’s first commercially available fulldome video playback system. 2002 then saw the advent of the first real-time fulldome projection systems,

“DigitalSky” from SkySkan:

courtesy of Sky-Skan

“Digistar 3”

courtesy of Evans & Sutherland

“SkyExplorer” from RSA Cosmos:

courtesy of RSA Cosmos

2002 also saw the premier of the first ever ADLIP (All-Dome Laser Image Projection) from ZEISS Planetariums and JENOPTIK AG.

courtesy of Carl Zeiss Jena

Since then, the fulldome world has taken off by storm and the ingenuity and variety of systems have be an amazing journey to see.

2001

A novel architectural concept was introduced in 2001: the open floor plan planetarium. In 2001, the McDonnell Planetarium St Louis Science Center reopened after a $10 million renovation with the Boeing Space Station Experience.

Image is courtesy of A. Green

The Orthwein StarBay (theater) has no light locks and large openings in the walls, which allowed visitors to flow between the StarBay and exhibit galleries as desired, while learning what it was like to live and work on a space station and included open live star talks twice an hour in the 24-meter dome where the stars stayed on all day. Mats were available to lie on the floor like being outside. The open floor with no permanent chairs allows for many unique special events in the StarBay too.

Image is courtesy of A. Green

Since then a few other planetariums have also tried the concept, but the James S. McDonnell Planetarium has very successfully returned to full length live shows every hour with removable seats (and the popular mats) with time for visitors to explore the exhibit areas before and after the shows to avoid light pollution in the dome.

Image is courtesy of A. Green
Image is courtesy of A. Green

2007

In 2007, Domecasting was first introduced. This technology has the potential to change the way we work together in the planetarium world, as it allows for a planetarium to give a live presentation not just in their dome, but in domes all over the world at the same time. The first domecast used SCISS Uniview software (now a part of ZEISS Group) between SCISS and American Museum of Natural History in 2007. Tests also occurred after that with Denver Museum of Nature and Science. In 2008 the technology was demonstrated for the first time publicly in Chicago.

A Kavli Lecture domecast from Adler-Planetarium
courtesy of M. Smail.

Since then planetariums have taken advantage of the cloud and similar software provided with their digital projection systems. This new capability lead to the “direct delivery” of data and the Data2Dome platform spearheaded, amongst others, by ESO, the European Southern Observatory.

The Kavli Lecture domecast being watched on flat screen Bell Museum
courtesy of the Bell Museum.
The Kavli Lecture livestream during the international Q&A session in the Zeiss-Großplanetarium Berlin, part of the Stiftung Planetarium Berlin, courtesy of A. Green