When you were in grade school, how did you learn about the planets - specifically, how the earth circles the sun and solar eclipses? Some schools drew the planets on a blackboard and attempted to explain it that way. Others had science books with pictures. And then there were the schools that had their own miniature ‘planetarium’ - a gadget usually made of metal that has the sun, earth, and moon all connected with pulleys and chains on a single base.

Nowadays, we think of a planetarium as a building where you can gaze at the stars or even look up at the ceiling while a computerized show of the heavens takes place. But these planetariums – even though they looked like toys – were educational tools built at the Trippensee Planetarium Company in Saginaw.

It was in 1897 when Alexander Laing created a solar system model to simulate how the earth revolves around the sun, changing the seasons. He first built these in Detroit with strings and pulleys but in 1905 was bought out by the Trippensee Brothers. After twenty-some years, they moved the whole company to 301 Cass Street in Saginaw.

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Their planetariums had chains instead of strings and gears replacing the pulleys. More modifications took place over the years, like using an electric lamp for the sun and a motor to make the whole thing move and the globes rotate. Other heavenly bodies they ended up depicting included the Milky Way.

Unfortunately, the company was bought in 1999 and moved to Buffalo, New York...but the old Trippensee planetarium building still stands on Cass Street in Saginaw.

Nowadays, some of those original, turn-of-the-century planetariums are worth big bucks on Ebay. Take a look at the gallery below...

Trippensee Planetarium Company Building, Saginaw


Gibson Guitar Company, Kalamazoo

Abandoned Atlas Powder Company, Keweenaw

Kelsey-Hayes Wheel Company, Jackson

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