Celebrity Questar Owners
Having acquired his Questar in 1967, Johnny Carson became yet another celebrated client of the company just outside of New Hope, Pennsylvania. Other notable individuals joined him in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Perhaps best remembered as the senator from Arizona who led an ill-fated campaign for the American presidency in 1964, Barry Goldwater was in fact a much rounder character than what most remember. He never held himself above self-criticism, he could charm anyone he met, and he possessed a Westerner’s outlook on the world.
Goldwater held the same love for tinkering that drove Questar’s founder, Lawrence Braymer. “An incurable gadgeteer,” as Washington Post journalist Bart Barnes wrote, Goldwater “loved such devices as the electronically operated flagpole at his Arizona home that was rigged to raise the flag at the precise moment it was struck by the rays of the morning sun.” His interests ranged from ham radio to aviation.
In the April 7, 2008, issue of the National Review, fellow conservative William F. Buckley, Jr., added his perspective:
Barry Goldwater was a hardy naturalist, son of the sun of Arizona deserts, and a man of exploration and science. No tool of the trade, in his fields of interest, was unfamiliar to him, and none failed to attract his attention. The airplane was in his blood, and the radio, and instruments of magnification and miniaturization. He was perpetually curious about oddities of nature and geography, and he always had at hand the most alluring paraphernalia, cameras especially.
Having read Buckley’s April 2008 remembrance of Goldwater, National Review reader Robert Howe sent its editors a letter that appeared in the magazine four weeks later. After noting Buckley’s earlier comments about Goldwater’s interest in science and fine instruments, he wrote:
I have the senator’s telescope. It is a Questar, made in New Hope....
Goldwater bought (or was given) the Questar in 1967. In 1993, his Scottsdale secretary mentioned that her husband, Conrad, was seeking a fine telescope but found the prices steep. Goldwater took the Questar from his camera closet and made a gift of it to a man he hardly knew. But first he sent it to the factory for refurbishing; the receipt shows that he spent over $660 to give his secretary’s husband the telescope (a new Questar then was $3,500).
This episode says much about the senator. His telescope was indeed “most alluring.” It was also American-designed and -made. And the manner in which he gave it to Conrad illustrates his generous, magnificent personality.
I treasure this telescope.
Only three years after he gave his Questar to his secretary’s husband, Goldwater suffered a debilitating stroke that damaged the region of the brain that controls one’s personality and memory. The next year, he showed early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. In May 1998, he passed away at the age of 89.
Contained in a neat, compact package, a Questar telescope was indeed the perfect gift. The company that built it knew this, too. In its 1968 booklet, it wrote that “one of the problems that Questar has solved in a very pleasurable way for corporations, is that of the corporate gift. It is one that is always welcomed, and one that is in perfect taste.” Its distinguished reputation also made it an excellent token of esteem for any dignitary. To mark the state visit of King Mohammed V of Morocco to the United States in late 1957, for instance, Dwight Eisenhower presented a Questar telescope to the monarch as a gift.
Over a dozen years later, another lucky recipient was surprised to receive a Questar. This time it was the famous economist Milton Friedman, who was sitting in his office at the University of Chicago when two individuals stopped by with the instrument in hand. In the New York Times for May 23, 1971, journalist Marylin Bender wrote that “Sidney Davidson, dean of the Graduate School of Business and sometimes called the nation’s number one accountant, presented the bantam stage of monetarist economics with a Questar telescope as Prof. George Stigler, the 6-foot authority on organizations, recorded the scene with his Nikon camera.”
Another academic to own a Questar and use it for his research was Donald Menzel. A prominent astronomer and astrophysicist, Menzel’s research spanned the solar chromosphere, stellar chemistry, the Martian atmosphere, and the composition of nebulae.
In its summary of a 1970 project conducted by Donald Menzel and Jay Pasachoff entitled “Spectrographic and Photographic Coronal Studies,” the National Science Foundation noted that Menzel and Pasachoff used a Questar to obtain photographs of the corona.
Notable Questar owners were by no means limited to prominent politicians and academics. Individuals who used their Questars purely for joy and adventure included Dawn Coleman, the socialite wife of wealthy industrialist George L. Coleman.
Upon reading his 1997 obituary in the New York Times, one quickly gets an understanding of the dynamic and conspicuous life that George Coleman led. He was a banker, oil company executive, speedboat racer, director of the Detroit Tigers baseball club, and an avid golfer. He held memberships with the exclusive Cypress Point Club in Pebble Beach and with the even more exclusive Augusta National Golf Club, and he enjoyed a close friendship with fellow golfer Bing Crosby.
Adding further color to his biography, Nathaniel Crosby remembered the relationship his father Bing had with Coleman:
On the wealthy front was George Coleman, my father’s best friend. Coleman was an Oklahoma oil man among other varied financial interests and an avid golfer, who counted Ben Hogan among his closest friends in golf, as did my father. The original Mrs. Coleman once was heard saying to her husband, “You’re not going to invite any of those golf-pro friends of yours to our party tomorrow night, are you?” The future ex-Mrs. Coleman was the antithesis of my father, and she was forever dubbed “the former beloved” by Coleman after they divorced.
In April 1959, George Coleman and his wife ended their marriage. That following November, he married Dawn Soles, a socialite from Montecito, California, who had recently finalized her divorce from Louis Soles, a Santa Barbara merchant.
Dawn and George Coleman soon built a life of extravagant luxury and circulated as active members of high society. Their participation in one event exemplified their tastes. In freezing conditions, the Colemans attended the thirtieth-annual Bing Crosby Pro Amateur Golf Tournament in Pebble Beach, California in 1971. In its January 15 account of the event, the New York Times commented that “wives of the amateur golfers must be the most loyal women in the world. Mrs. George L. Coleman, who follows her husband, an Oklahoma oil tycoon, around the courses, says, ‘it’s the same old Crosby,’ as she dresses for foul weather outdoors and party time after hours.”
Dawn Coleman also carved out time from her busy social schedule to go on safari in Africa. She packed a Questar telescope with her expedition gear. In its 1972 booklet, the company included a full-page account of Coleman’s adventure. Her telescope helped her capture and bring back a “big bag of game” with stunning images of wildlife in Kenya. She later wrote the company to let them know just how much she enjoyed using her Questar. “I could not have captured the expressions on those cheetahs with anything but a Questar,” she said.
For individuals like Dawn Coleman, nothing but the best would have sufficed for her private safari in Kenya.
Other notable members of high society undoubtedly felt the same way about their Questar telescopes. One such individual was Catherine Hearst (1917-1998). Born to a wealthy family and raised in Atlanta, she met Randolph Hearst while he was working at the Atlanta Georgian, a newspaper owned by William Randolph Hearst, his father. The couple married in 1938. Beyond her work at a conservative member of the University of California Board of Regents, Catherine Hearst led the life of a socialite, philanthropist, and amateur artist.
During the crisis surrounding the kidnapping of her daughter Patricia Hearst, Catherine used her Questar telescope to escape the anguish of the ordeal. “The serenity of the order in the heavens has been very helpful in keeping things in perspective,” her friend Adalene Ross quoted her as saying in an article she wrote for the July 1974 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal. Hearst added that the Pleiades were her favorite sight to behold. “They are so small and sparkling and perfect. I am always at peace looking at them.”
By the mid-1970s, the Questar telescope had become firmly ensconced among other notable symbols of prestige in high society. Questar took its place among Leica, Rolex, and countless other luxury brands.
Questar on the World Stage
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Questar telescopes had reached all corners of the globe. The company’s products appeared in numerous international exhibits and observatories. There was little doubt that Questar had only further secured its reputation.
In a brief profile entitled “Astronomy in Mongolia,” which appeared in the December 1973 issue of Sky and Telescope, Krzysztof Ziolkowski of the Space Data Laboratory in Warsaw, Poland, summarized recent developments in the far-off region. One image that the magazine included with the article depicted a group of astronomers using several instruments including a standard Questar mounted on a Linhof tripod.
Questar telescopes functioned as emissaries in several international expositions.
The most conspicuous appearance occurred at the 1967 Expo in Montreal. In its advertisement in the September 1967 issue of Sky and Telescope, Questar highlighted the appearance of its product in an exhibit entitled “Man the Explorer.” As a symbol of “man’s experience with telescopes,” a reproduction of Galileo’s telescope “rests side by side with Questar.” The exhibit was one part of the overall theme for the exposition under the general title “Man and his World.”
In 1968, the U.S. federal government included Questar in its Confluence, U.S.A. exhibit at Hemisfare ’68 in San Antonio, Texas.
In 1972 and 1973, a Questar telescope traveled with an exhibition organized by the United States Information Agency named Outdoor Recreation—U.S.A. It appeared in a number of major cities in Eastern Europe. For the telescope at least, one exhibition stop in the Soviet Union proved to be the last one after a thief—or perhaps an overeager astronomer who lacked the ability to acquire one in a free market—stole it.
And in 1975, Questar also had the honor of helping to represent the United States at the first International Ocean Exposition in Okinawa, Japan.
Closer to home, the Questar telescope had a presence at numerous museums and trade shows. The company promoted its October 1968 appearance at the meeting of the American Institute in Philadelphia. In 1969, Walter Dorwin Teague, who had included the Questar telescope five years earlier in his choice of the twenty best industrial designs since World War II, again chose the Questar as part of an exhibit entitled Designed for Use, which appeared at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida. Its location invites speculation about whether Dorothy and Ralph Davis, who lived in Sarasota, had any input in the matter. And in 1972, the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, added a Questar to its permanent collection.
By the mid-1970s, a quarter-century had passed since Lawrence and Marguerite Braymer incorporated their company. In the years ahead, Questar continued to evolve. So did amateur astronomy as a whole.
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1 Bart Barnes, “Barry Goldwater, GOP Hero, Dies,” Washington Post, May 30, 1998, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/daily/may98/goldwater30.htm, accessed February 13, 2021.
2 Bart Barnes, “Barry Goldwater, GOP Hero, Dies,” Washington Post, May 30, 1998, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/daily/may98/goldwater30.htm, accessed February 13, 2021.
3 William F. Buckley Jr., “A Trip Down South,” National Review, April 7, 2008, 17.
4 Robert Howe, letter to the editor, National Review, May 5, 2008, 4.
5 Bart Barnes, “Barry Goldwater, GOP Hero, Dies,” Washington Post, May 30, 1998, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/daily/may98/goldwater30.htm, accessed February 13, 2021.
6 Questar Corporation, Questar booklet, 1968, 30.
7 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, February 1958, 186
8 Marylin Bender, “Chicago School Goes to the Head of Class,” New York Times, May 23, 1971, 3, https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1971/05/23/issue.html, accessed October 8, 2019.
9 Rodger Gordon to the author, September 23, 2020.
10 “Donald Howard Menzel,” Wikipedia, n.d., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Howard_Menzel, accessed February 13, 2021.
11 Solar Eclipse 1970 Bulletin: F (Final Bulletin) Program for Observations of the Total Solar Eclipse, March 7, 1970 (Washington, D.C.: National Science Foundation, 1970), 141, https://books.google.com/books?id=uKhuLkgkBB0C&pg=PA141&lpg=PA141#v=onepage&q&f=false, accessed October 1, 2020.
12 George L. Coleman Obituary. New York Times. August 3, 1997, https://www.nytimes.com/1997/08/03/classified/paid-notice-deaths-coleman-george-l.html, accessed May 13, 2020.
13 Nathaniel Crosby, “Book Excerpt: A Crooner, Caddies & Kings,” Golf Digest, December 9, 2016, https://www.golfdigest.com/story/book-excerpt-a-crooner-caddies-and-kings, accessed May 13, 2020.
14 “Photograph 2012.201.B0232.0317,” Oklahoma Historical Society, n.d., https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc214971/, accessed February 13, 2021.
15 “The Parties Start Early Among Crosby Golfers,” New York Times, January 15, 1971, 16, https://www.nytimes.com/1971/01/15/archives/the-parties-start-early-among-crosby-golfers.html, accessed May 13, 2020.
16 Questar Corporation, Questar booklet, 1972, 10.
17 “Hearst, Catherine Campbell (1917–1998),” Encyclopedia.com, n.d., https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hearst-catherine-campbell-1917-1998, accessed November 27, 2021; Adalene Ross, “The Private Ordeal of Catherine Hearst,” Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1974, 102, https://archive.org/details/ladieshomejourna91julwyet/page/n70/mode/1up, accessed November 26, 2021.
18 Adalene Ross, “The Private Ordeal of Catherine Hearst,” Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1974, 102, 106, https://archive.org/details/ladieshomejourna91julwyet/page/n70/mode/1up, accessed November 26, 2021.
19 Krzysztof Ziolkowski, “Astronomy in Mongolia,” Sky and Telescope, December 1973.
20 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, September 1967, inside front cover.
21 “Expo 67,” Wikipedia, n.d., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expo_67, accessed August 8, 2020.
22 Questar Corporation, “On the Problem of Choosing a Telescope,” 1973.
23 Questar Corporation, “On the Problem of Choosing a Telescope,” 1973.
24 “Questar Products Index & Overview Page,” Company Seven, n.d., http://www.company7.com/questar/index.html, accessed July 3, 2019.
25 Questar Corporation, Questar booklet, 1977, 23.
26 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, October 1968, inside front cover; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, October 1968, 59.
27 Walter Dorwin Teague, “The Twenty Best Industrial Designs Since World War II,” Saturday Review, May 23, 1964, 17, http://www.company7.com/library/questar/notes.html, accessed September 20, 2019; Questar Corporation, “On the Problem of Choosing a Telescope,” 1973.
28 Rudolph Kingslake, “New Acquisitions: The Questar Telescope,” Journal of Photography and Motion Pictures 15, no. 4 (1972): 17-18, https://archive.org/details/sim_image_1972-12_15_4/mode/1up, accessed December 3, 2021; Questar Corporation, “On the Problem of Choosing a Telescope,” 1973.