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About Cyrus Woodman

Cyrus Woodman, 1814-1889 Source: University of Wisconsin Archives

Cyrus Woodman, born in Buxton, Maine in 1814, was a man of many interests. He was a trained as a lawyer but counted banker, lumberman, financier and entrepreneur among his many accomplishments.

A close friend and partner of Cadwallader C. Washburn (for whom the Washburn Observatory is named) he became the Astronomy Library’s benefactor in 1883 when he established a trust fund in Washburn’s memory with the sum of $5000. The Woodman Trust Fund was the first trust fund established for UW-Madison.

The Library in its original location in Washburn Observatory. Source: Wisconsin Electronic Reader. Original owned by the University of Wisconsin Archives: Album 1.61

The professional collection of Professor James C. Watson, the first director of the Washburn Observatory, formed the foundation of the library’s collection. Donations from other scientists and professional organizations brought the collection to 700 books and 1000 pamphlets when the library was established in 1881. Half of the trust fund income was to be used to purchase library materials while the other half reverted into principle. The Woodman trust allowed the Astronomy Library to flourish high atop Observatory Hill in the Washburn Observatory and continues to support the collection even today.

In 1959, the Library moved with the Astronomy Department to Sterling Hall, where it remains today. The 1970s brought the turbulence of the Vietnam conflict to the library when on August 24, 1970 Sterling Hall was bombed. Library staff spent many hours removing glass fragments from the library’s collection. Part of the card catalog was never found. During the reconstruction the library was enlarged to its present size.

The library’s collection has grown since those early days of the 1880s. As of June 30, 2007 the library’s collection includes over 7000 bound periodicals and over 10,300 books, atlases, catalogs and observatory publications.


“Cyrus Woodman: A Character Sketch” by Ellis B. Usher. The Wisconsin Magazine of History, v. 2, no. 4 (1919), pp. 393-412.

Publications of the Washburn Observatory of the University of Wisconsin.
Madison, WI: Washburn Observatory, University of Wisconsin, 1882-1934.

A Statement Relating to the Will of Hon. Cadwallader C. Washburn by Cyrus Woodman.
Cambridge, Mass.: s.n., 1884.

Westernized Yankee: The Story of Cyrus Woodman by Larry Gara. Madison, WI: State
Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1956.

“Woodman, Cyrus 1814-1889.” Dictionary of Wisconsin History. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society.