Celestron founder dies at age 89

Tom Johnson founded the telescope company in 1960 and revolutionized the hobby with the Celestron 8.
By | Published: March 13, 2012 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Tom Johnson, founder of Celestron, died March 13, 2012, at the age of 89.
Courtesy Celestron

The astronomy community lost a great innovator today. Thomas J. Johnson, founder of Celestron, passed away at 5 a.m. PST.

Johnson, an electronics engineer, first created Celestron as a division of his aerospace electronics firm, Valor Electronics. Finding no suitable telescope for his two young sons, he decided to build an instrument from scratch. Starting with this 1960 6-inch reflector, Johnson eventually moved on to bigger and more sophisticated designs, and his new company was soon offering Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes in 4- to 22-inch models.

Johnson’s biggest challenge with Celestron telescopes was to find a way to efficiently produce the Schmidt corrector plate used in the top-of-the-line catadioptric telescopes (hybrid of a reflector and a refractor). With his designers in 1970, the founder began making a telescope that took amateur astronomy by storm: the Celestron 8. This instrument revolutionized the hobby by bringing compact, affordable telescopes to the marketplace and led to more adaptations, making Johnson’s company a leader in the industry. He sold Celestron in 1980.
In a statement released this afternoon, Joe Lupica, Celestron president and CEO, said of Johnson:

Tom’s innovative, pioneering spirit created a revolutionary method of mass producing an affordable Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope design, which allowed millions of amateur astronomers to pursue their passion for astronomy.  Other notable achievements include a 1978 David Richardson Medal from the Optical Society of America, a 1993 Bruce Blair Medal from the Western Amateur Astronomers, and a 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Small Telescope & Astronomical Society.    

Our hearts go out Tom’s wife and family and to all who were touched by his achievements and innovation.

More details on memorial and funeral arrangements are forthcoming.