Saturday, April 26, 2008

Boy Genius

Nov. 8, 1907
Los Angeles

Mars F. Baumgardt is an interesting young man with an even more interesting project: a radio-controlled boat. Although many students’ projects are on display at the 30th Street School, including those of Mars’ brother Howard, it is the boat controlled by wireless telegraphy that interests The Times.

“As nearly as a layman in the rudiments of electricity can understand the proposition, the scheme is about as follows, in brief: The current sent to the boat by wireless is conveyed into a lower compartment, and is the means of setting a clock. This clock in turn moves two levels, sending the boat in a given direction,” The Times says.

Mars, 16, and Howard, 13, are the sons of B.R. Baumgardt, a noted scientist who was involved in establishing the Mt. Wilson Observatory. The entire basement of the Baumgardt home at 626 W. 30th St. has been turned over to the boys for a laboratory, The Times says, “their mother believing in allowing genius to have free swing.”

And what of Mars F. Baumgardt? A Proquest search turns up hundreds of later entries on the boy genius. In a few years, he was director of the W. A. Clark Jr. Observatory on West Adams and by the 1920s was a regular on radio station KHJ, discussing astronomy.

He was an optometrist by trade and an astronomer by avocation, as well as serving on the park commission in the 1930s. He died Nov. 25, 1950, at the age of 60. His brother Howard, below, a dentist, died in 1966 at the age of 71.

Bonus fact: His son, Mars F. Baumgardt Jr., was one of the backers of “Eraserhead.”

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