of the Early
John N. Howard
John Howard presents brief
biographies of two leaders
from 1960 and 1961. Brode Baker
OSA Historical Archives
James Gilbert Baker, 1960
James Gilbert Baker was born in Louisville, Ky., U.S.A., on 11 November
1914. After attending public schools, he
majored in mathematics at the University of Louisville. During his time at
the university, he became interested in
astronomy and in grinding his own telescope mirrors. In 1931, he helped to form
the Louisville Astronomical Society. He
graduated with a B.A. in 1935.
Pursuing his interest in astronomy, he
studied at the Harvard College Observatory. He earned his M.A. in 1936, and he
gained an appointment as a Junior Fellow
of the Harvard Society from 1937 until
1943. It was in 1940 that he developed
the Baker-Schmidt telescope, a modification of the Schmidt camera. In 1942, he
was awarded his Ph.D. in astronomy and
astrophysics from Harvard. That same
year, he received the Adolph Lomb Medal
of the Optical Society.
After the start of World War II, he
was recruited to be a civilian optical de-
signer for the Army’s newly formed aerial
reconnaissance branch under Colonel
George W. Goddard. He would design
wide-angle camera systems and test them
in unpressurized compartments during
test flights. He also became a consultant
for the Perkin Elmer Corporation.
Baker’s genius for optical
innovation emerged while
he was a graduate student
in the early 1940s.
The book that he coauthored in 1945
with George Dimitroff, Telescopes and
Accessories, became a classic that remains
a valuable reference today. He was also a
skilled “glass pusher” and machinist.
He lived in Cambridge, Mass., U.S. A.,
from 1946 until 1949. He was an associate professor at Harvard University. During that time, he continued his research
into optics that he had pursued during
the war. In 1948, he moved to Orinda,
Calif., U.S.A., to join the Lick Observatory as a research associate. He returned
to Harvard in 1950.
Baker’s genius for optical innovation
emerged while he was a graduate student
in the early 1940s, and it dominated his
professional career. His contributions to
the field of photographic reconnaissance
are legendary. They began with lens
designs used during World War II and
extended through the Cold War years
with the U- 2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy
planes and eventually satellite reconnaissance programs. He and Edwin Land
were instrumental in persuading President Dwight Eisenhower to have the U- 2
spy plane built. Baker also designed the
lenses and most of the cameras used on
the U- 2 and later the SR-71 Blackbird.
In addition, he developed the lenses and
cameras in the Samos satellite program.
A modified version of these optics was
later used in lunar mapping programs.
During the 1960s, he designed the
folding optics for the Polaroid SX-70
Land Camera. He also created the
Baker Super-Schmidt camera, which
was used to track meteors.
In 1960, he became president of the
Optical Society of America. In 1965,
he was awarded the OSA Frederic Ives
Medal and in 1991 he received the OSA
Joseph Fraunhofer Award. In 1993 he
was elected an Honorary Member of
20 | OPN Optics & Photonics News