Off to War

Off to War

Otto Struve came from astronomical royalty. His grandfather and great-grandfather had been leading astronomers in Russia. And his father was director of Kharkov Observatory in Ukraine.

Young Otto embarked on a career in astronomy as well, taking classes in astronomy and math. His academic career was interrupted by World War I, when he joined the Russian Imperial Army.

Struve returned to college after the war, and earned his degree in 1919. But conditions in that part of the world remained unstable. After the Russian revolution, a civil war was under way. And 100 years ago this month, Struve joined it.

He enlisted in the White Russian Army, which opposed the Bolsheviks. Struve was a member of the cavalry. He was wounded in action in July, and he once had his horse shot out from under him.

By late 1920, the war was lost for Struve’s army. He was evacuated to Turkey, where he spent a year and a half eating at soup kitchens. He worked at any job he could find, including lumberjacking.

Through a network of connections, though, Struve was offered a job at Yerkes Observatory, which was operated by the University of Chicago. Struve arrived in late 1921.

By 1932, he was directing the observatory. And that year, Chicago signed a deal with the University of Texas to operate the new observatory it was planning. Struve led the observatory’s construction, and he became its director — the first director of McDonald Observatory.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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