The roots of this largely forgotten story lie not solely in the founding of Carleton College in 1866, but also in the organization of the Cincinnati Astronomical Society in 1842. The society, founded by Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel, was composed of townspeople from all walks of life, who subscribed and solicited money to erect an observatory. It was the first serious attempt to combine leading scientific work with a program of public outreach and education.
In 1846, Mitchel went a step farther and published "the first popular Astronomical periodical ever attempted...in any language," in order to inform the intelligent and interested layperson "with regard to the primary and fundamental truths of Astronomy." The publication was named The Sidereal [i.e., Star] Messenger - a literal translation of the title of the first work based on telescopic observations, Galileo's Nuncius Sidereus. Mitchel's journal lasted only two years, abandoned so that he could devote more time to his other duties. In 1882, however, a new version of The Sidereal Messenger appeared-at Carleton College-where it was published privately by the director of the Carleton College Observatory.
Like its predecessor, this second Messenger proclaimed that "There are other public interests to serve besides those that are mainly theoretical, or professional; for there are persons, not a few, in every vocation of life, that have a love for the elements of this great science...." It was, as its predecessor had been, the only popular journal of astronomy in the world; for three years it was the only-and for its entire run was the most influential and successful- astronomical journal in the United States. And like its predecessor, the new Messenger was published at an observatory which was committed both to serious scientific research and to the introduction of the elements of astronomy to a broad range of people.