William Campbell was an American astronomer who served as president of the National Academy of Sciences from 1931 to 1935. Specializing in spectroscopy, he catalogued the radial velocities of stars, identifying numerous binary stars. In 1922 he led a team to photograph a solar eclipse; his data provided support for Einstein’s special theory of relativity.
Campbell graduated from the University of Michigan in 1886 with a degree in civil engineering and he became a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Colorado. After reading Popular Astronomy by Simon Newcomb, he discovered his call to astronomy and began teaching at the University of Michigan. In 1891 he began his spectroscopy research at the Lick Observatory in California and served as its director from 1900 to 1930. He also served as President of the University of California, was on the board of trustees for the Society for Science & the Public, and was President of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
During Campbell’s presidency of the National Academy of Sciences the United States was going through economic depression. With little call from Congress during this time, his presidency focused on the allocation of funding and the reorganization of the internal structure of the Academy and the National Research Council.