James Gilliss

September 6, 1811 - February 9, 1865

Election Year: 1863
Membership Type: Member

James Melville Gilliss was a naval officer who contributed significantly to the field of astronomy. He joined the United States Navy in 1827 at the age of fifteen, and although he took some time to pursue studies at the University of Virginia, Gilliss remained with the Navy for his career. He was appointed to oversee the Depot of Naval Charts and Instruments, where he was required to make astronomical observations. He soon became an expert, publishing the first North American volume of astronomical observations and the first catalog of stars. As a result of this experience, Gilliss lobbied for the established of the Naval Observatory, which was built between 1843 and 1844. Not only did Gilliss oversee the project, but he also served as the observatory’s director from 1861 until the year of his death. Among his contributions to astronomy were a variety of expeditions to Latin America that led to the documentation of tens of thousands of stars, in addition to the establishment of an observatory in Chile with the purpose of observing Mars and Venus. Gilliss was a charter member of the Academy.

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