The Spitz Model A Planetarium

The Model A had a humble beginning in 1946. Its inventor, Professor Armand N. Spitz, Director of Education at the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia wanted to make a planetarium that was affordable to everyone.  Because he was working out of his home to develop this planetaruim device, his methods were sometimes a bit crude, many times he worked on the project right at the kitchen table! He used flat pieces of plastic, cut into pentagons to form an overall shape of a dodecahedron for the star projector. Armand had hoped by using flat sheets of plastic that he would be able to stack them together. By stacking and drilling the "star" holes in several plates at a time it would make the production of them faster and cheaper.  Armand found out very quickly that it wasn't going to work.  He found that each dodecahedron would have to be assembled first, and then each "star" hole drilled individually.  With that knowledge, manufacturing of the dodecahedrons was given to a plastic company just outside of Philadelphia.  Armand had other obstacles too, he was an "idea man"  not a machinist. So to build the rest of the projector's base and planet drum he would rely on Thomas Industries of Wenonah, NJ.  Thomas Industries specialized in precision machining and were no strangers to prototype work. Armand brought his hand drawn ideas to its owner J.P. Thomas and a couple months later, they were turning out the first production Spitz Model A machines. Armand then sold them for a "mere" $500.00! Up until the relocation to Oklahoma in 1951, Thomas Industries made the first 50 Model A series planetariums and about 40 of the Model A-1 series planetariums for Armand.  With the departure of Thomas Industries he found new financial backing and formed Spitz laboratories. The newly formed operation was located in an old movie house in downtown Philadelphia where he continued developing the Model A-1 machine with its many improvements.
                  (Left) The former Thomas Industries Bldg. in Wenonah NJ.        (Right)  J.P. Thomas with planetarium

Early prototype machines (left) Soft soap container drilled and used as a pinhole projector, Armand built this for his daughter Vera in the early 40's (Middle) Inside the prototype dodecahedron, Armand poses with the prototype.

 (Left) Oil panting by armand Spitz in 1952. (Right)  My own Spitz Model A unit built in 1953.

 From a collector's viewpoint there are many different versions of the Spitz dodecahedron planetarium.  The Model A, the A-1 and the A-2.  They can be identified by using the guidelines below.

The Model A uses a crescent shaped brace to hold the dodecahedron.   The Star projection is entirely pin hole projection.   It also has a planet drum that uses the same pinhole projection. The drum is marked with a plaque that states: "Manufactured  by Thomas Industries,  Wenonah, NJ. " It  will have the serial number stamped on it.  The units also has all of its controls located on its tapered base.  About 50 of these units were made 

The Model A-1 looks  very much like the Model A with the crescent holder and controls on the tapered base.    The big difference between the A and the A-1 is the optical projector used for the first magnitude stars.  These projectors not only sharpened the star images but gave them color as well!   The use of the optical planet projection unit instead of the planet drum was a big improvement as well.  The A-1 had an improved latitude control with a dial readout that made it easier to control during a viewing.  About 40 of these units were made.

The Model A-1 Console Type was the first to unitize a full sized desk and control console. They also used the new dog leg holder for the Dodecahedron.  This design got rid of the need to hold the dodecahedron from both poles and improved the north polar region projection. About 100 of these units were made.

The Model A-2 Console Type was very much the same as the Model A-1, the main difference was improved slip rings using solid silver ring contacts for the planet projectors.  This model also introduced the milky way projector.  These machines could also perform motorized daily motion in both directions.  About 100 of these units were made.


Back to Main Page