Prompted by response to his popular lectures, astronomer Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel (1809-1862) founded the Cincinnati Astronomical Society (CAS) in 1842. With CAS funding, Mitchel traveled to Munich, Bavaria, to acquire the optical elements for what became the world's second largest refractor telescope. In 1843 former president John Quincy Adams laid the cornerstone of the observatory building, located upon the hill since known as Mount Adams. The Cincinnati Observatory was completed and opened for study in 1845. Mitchel, who died in service during the Civil War, was among the first to popularize astronomy in America. The telescope he brought to Cincinnati remains in daily use, the oldest such instrument in the United States.
As second director of the Cincinnati Observatory, meteorologist Dr. Cleveland Abbe (1838-1916) inaugurated daily weather predictions based on telegraph reports. His work prompted the formation of the U.S. Weather Bureau, forerunner of the National Weather Service. After the Cincinnati Observatory was transferred to the University of Cincinnati, it was relocated to this site in 1873. Five directors charted its course for the next one hundred years. Under Dr. Paul Herget (1908-1981), a pioneer in the electronic tracking of satellites, the observatory was designated the International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center in 1947. In 1978 the University of Cincinnati's Physics Department assumed operation of the observatory, and in 1999 the University transferred it to The Cincinnati Observatory Center. This organization preserves the traditions of the oldest professional observatory in the United States.