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Ambrose Swasey

Birthplace: Exeter, Rockingham, New Hampshire, United States
Death: June 15, 1937 (90)
Exeter, Rockingham, New Hampshire, United States
Place of Burial: Exeter Cemetery Exeter Rockingham County New Hampshire
Immediate Family:

Son of Nathaniel Swasey and Abigail Chesley Swasey
Husband of Lavinia Swasey
Brother of Benjamin Franklin Swasey

Managed by: Private User
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About Ambrose Swasey

Ambrose Swasey (December 19, 1846–June 15, 1937) was an American mechanical engineer, inventor, entrepreneur, manager, astronomer, and philanthropist. With Worcester R. Warner he co-founded the Warner & Swasey Company.

Swasey was born near Exeter, New Hampshire. He apprenticed as a machinist at the Exeter Machine Works and was afterwards employed at Pratt & Whitney. As his career progressed he became a foreman in the gear-cutting section. He developed a new technique for making gear-tooth cutters. In 1880 he and Warner formed their eponymous firm, which quickly moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Swasey would perform the engineering and machine development at this company.

The close friends Warner and Swasey built their homes next to each other on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, a street that was known as "Millionaire's Row".

In addition to army ordinance contracts, the firm of Warner & Swasey became notable for their work on astronomical observatories and equipment. They realized that obtaining contracts to build large astronomical observatories would provide publicity for their company.

In 1885 Swasey completed work at McCormick Observatory on the 45-foot dome, which was the largest in the world, and had a unique, 3 shutter design. In 1887 Swasey built the mount for the 36-inch refracting telescope at Lick Observatory. In 1898 he manufactured a dividing engine for the U.S. Naval Observatory that was used to make the meridian circles. Both the building and dome of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory were made by Warner and Swasey Co. Other observatory telescopes and components were built by the company at the Kenwood Observatory, Yerkes Observatory, Argentia National Observatory, and the Case Institute Observatory.

From 1904 until 1905 he was the president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Both Warner and Swasey were amateur astronomers. In 1920 they made a joint donation to the Case Western Reserve University to fund the construction of an observatory. This was named the Warner and Swasey Observatory in their honor, and the observatory was used for research by the Case astronomy department. The observatory maintained by the department today is still known by this name today.

Other donations made by Swasey include the Swasey Chapel in Cleveland (1924), a bandstand in Exeter by architect Henry Bacon, (1916), and the endowment of a chair for a professor of physics at the Case School of Applied Sciences. The chimes in the chapel were included as a memorial to his wife, Lavinia Marston Swasey.

He died in Exeter. The Warner & Swasey Company he cofounded would continue until 1980, when it was acquired by Bendix Corporation.

Awards and honors

The crater Swasey on the Moon is named after him, as is the asteroid 992 Swasey.

At CWRU, the chair of "Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics" was named for his endowment. (Lawrence M. Krauss was named to this position in 1993.)

In 1932 he was awarded the Franklin Medal.

In 1936 he was awarded the Hoover Medal.

Swasey was a member of the United States National Research Council.

In 1982 Swasey was elected to the Machine Tool Hall of Fame of the American Precision Museum.


Ambrose Swasey

Born December 19 1846 – Died June 15 1937


Patent No. 959,179

Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006

Ambrose Swasey, inventor of precise astronomical instruments, designed some of the most powerful and accurate telescopes of his day.

Invention Impact

Two great telescopes the partners designed and built were a thirty-six-inch refractor, the largest of its time, for the University of California’s Lick Observatory, and the twenty-five percent more powerful Yerkes refractor. Swasey also perfected a tool to divide meridian circles, the dividing engine, that was accurate to within one inch of arc in a three-mile radius circle. His mastery of precision yielded highly regarded gun sights, range finders, field telescopes, and binoculars as well.

A founding member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Swasey encouraged scientific progress. He contributed generously to the United Engineering Society and endowed a professorship at Case School of Applied Sciences (Case Western Reserve University). With Warner, he donated observatories to Case and to Denison University.

Inventor Bio

Swasey was born in Exeter, New Hampshire. Apprenticed to a machine works at age eighteen, he showed a natural aptitude for mechanics. With Worcester R. Warner, he founded the Warner & Swasey Company in 1880. Although machine tools were the company’s main focus, their astronomical instruments brought them world renown.

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Ambrose Swasey's Timeline

December 19, 1846
Exeter, Rockingham, New Hampshire, United States
June 15, 1937
Age 90
Exeter, Rockingham, New Hampshire, United States
Exeter Cemetery Exeter Rockingham County New Hampshire