October 22, 1905–March 28, 2002
BY DONALD E. OSTERBROCK
ALBERT E. WHITFORD WAS born, raised, and educated in Wisconsin, and then made his mark as an outstanding research astrophysicist there and in California. As a graduate student in physics he developed instrumental improvements that greatly increased the sensitivity of photoelectric measurements of the brightness and color of stars. For the rest of his life he applied these and later even better tools for increasing our knowledge and understanding of stars, interstellar matter, star clusters, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies, from the nearest to the most distant. He became a leader of American astronomy, and his counsel was sought and heeded by the national government.
Albert was born in Milton, Wisconsin, a little village halfway between Madison and Williams Bay, where Yerkes Observatory is located. When Albert was born, his father, Alfred E. Whitford, was the professor of mathematics and physics at tiny Milton College, and his father, Albert, for whom our subject was named, had been the professor of mathematics before him. Albert’s mother, Mary Whitford, was his father’s second cousin from Rhode Island, and he had one sister, Dorothy (later Lerdahl). Albert’s Aunt Anna was the professor of German at the college, and his great-uncle, William C. Whitford, had been its first president.