Henry Draper


Henry Draper was born March 7, 1837. 

His father John William Draper was an accomplished doctor, chemist, botanist and professor at New York University.  He was also the first to photograph the moon through a telescope in 1840.  His mother was the daughter of the personal physician to the Emperor of Brazil.

Henry graduated from New York University of Medicine, at age 20 in 1857.  He first worked as a physician and later as both a professor and dean of medicine at New York University.  In 1867 he Married Mary Anna Palmer who collaborated with him in his astronomy work.

Draper was one of the pioneers of the use of astrophotography.  In 1872, he took a stellar spectrum that showed absorption lines.  Others that preceded him in that ambition were Joseph Fraunhofer, Lew Morris Rutherfurd and Angelo Secchhi.

In 1873, he resigned as chair of the medical department to pursue his research.


In 1874, he directed an expedition to photograph the transit of Venus.  He was the first to photograph the Orion Nebula on September 30, 1880.  This 50 minute exposure was taken with his Clark refractor, located in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.  Today this building functions as the Hastings-on-Hudson Historical Society.  The telescope is now at the Torun Centre for Astronomy in Poland.

He also photographed the spectrum of Jupiter in 1880.

Double pleurisy, caused his untimely early death at only 45, in 1882.  After his death, his widow Anna Draper, funded the Henry Draper Medal for outstanding contributions to astrophysics.  She also funded a telescope that was used to prepare the Henry Draper Catalog of stellar spectra.  The glass photographic plates for this catalog were housed, and classified at Harvard University, by the “computers” of “Pickering’s Harem”.  (More on these women in future articles)



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