"The Snowflake Man"

Snow Crystal Photographed by Wilson A. Bentley
Bentley photo used by permission. See www.snowflakebentley.com

Wilson A. Bentley, a Vermont farmer, photographed the marvels of snow crystals.

This article was triggered by a UPS package I received a couple of days ago.

I could tell by the feel that it was a book. I opened it and found "The Snowflake Man", a biography of Wilson Bentley (1865-1931) written and personally autographed by my good friend Dr. Duncan Blanchard. It made my Christmas.

Bentley was a lifelong resident of Jerico, Vermont, who had an all consuming interest in the structure of snow. When only 19, he mastered the technique of taking enlarged photographs -- photomicrographs-- of snow crystals. For the remainder of his life, his passion was to capture on film more and more images of these marvels of nature: multiple variations built on a simple hexagonal theme.

As is often the case, a prophet is not honored in his own country. In Jerico, Bentley was thought a bit odd to be so obsessed with snow.

Gradually, the outside scientific world became aware of Bentley through his publications.

Photo of Wilson Bentley used by permission.

Outstanding meteorologist William J. Humphries became interested and collaborated with him in a major publication, "Snow Crystals", which was printed in 1931 by McGraw Hill and reprinted in 1962 by Dover Publications.

Blanchard, an esteemed atmospheric scientist, devoted a decade of his postretirement life researching Bentley and writing the biography. It was his tribute to a common man who had the courage to pursue his own dreams, overcoming various obstacles placed in his path.

I commend the book particularly to science teachers. It contains a wealth of information and many valuable lessons about good science done by a very ordinary, yet extraordinary, individual. (Publishers: McDonald and Woodward, Blacksburg, VA)

A footnote:

In 1991, Mary and I concluded a European trip by stopping in New England to visit Roland Boucher, a former PanAm meteorologist friend who had retreated in retirement to a log cabin in a valley across from Vermont's Mount Mansfield. He delighted in giving us a tour of the places of interest in his beloved state. One of these was Jerico, home of Wilson Bentley.

We visited the Old Mill, now a curio shop devoted to Bentley as hometown hero. We came home with two plates and cups imprinted with -- you guested it -- a large dendritic snowflake.

We will celebrate receipt of this book by a symbolic meal -- snowflake soufflé and dendrite-spiked cider served on Bentley china.

Thank you, Duncan.

Visit www.snowflakebentley.com to learn more about Bentley and to see 26 snowflake crystal photographs.

Cloud History Topics

Luke Howard -- "The Godfather of Clouds | Wilson A. Bentley -- "The Snowflake Man"

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