R. G. Harrington and A. G. Wilson (Palomar Observatory, California, USA) discovered this comet using the 122-cm Schmidt telescope during the course of the National Geographic Society-Palomar Observatory Sky Survey. It first appeared on a plate exposed on 1952 January 30.45. They estimated the magnitude as 15, and described the comet as diffuse, with a tail less than one degree long. The discoverers confirmed the comet on a plate exposed on February 4.43.
On February 16 and 17, Harrington and Wilson photographed the comet using the 122-cm Schmidt. The comet was described as well-defined, with a magnitude of about 15. On February 17-19, D. J. Martinoff (Engelhardt Observatory, Kazan, Russia) photographed the comet using the 38-cm Schmidt and gave the magnitude as "somewhat fainter than" 15. On February 19, L. E. Cunningham (Mount Wilson, California, USA) obtained a 6-minute exposure of the predicted position of the comet using the 152-cm reflector and found "very faint and diffuse images close to a bright star." On February 21, Cunningham obtained a pair of 9-minute exposures of the comet using the 254-cm reflector and saw it visually with the same instrument. Visually, he said the comet was near the limit of visibility and gave the magnitude as 15.8. Photographically, he gave the magnitude as 19.3.
The final photographic exposure to allow the measurement of a precise position was made by Cunningham on February 25.39. G. van Biesbroeck (Yerkes Observatory, Wisconsin, USA) obtained photographs of the comet's position using the 61-cm reflector on March 25, but no trace of the comet was found, even though stars to magnitude 18 were recorded. Unfortunately, Cunningham was not able to get to Mt. Wilson for his observing run in March due to deep snow. The comet was last detected on April 16 and 19, when Harrington and Wilson photographed it using the 122-cm Schmidt telescope. They estimated the magnitude as 19-20. According to Cunningham, the nebulosity was then so diffuse "that accurate positions will be difficult or impossible to measure."
During 1953, L. Kresák pointed out the "probable identity" of this comet with the then lost periodic comet Taylor of 1916, by showing the strong similarity between the orbits. He noted that Taylor had passed very close to Jupiter in 1925. Kresák said the orbital period of Harrington-Wilson was "somewhat uncertain and does not allow to make a definite conclusion as to the number of unobserved returns without computing the perturbations, which were considerable in 1925."
The first elliptical orbit was calculated by L. E. Cunningham and represented six positions spanning 22 days. He gave the perihelion date as 1951 October 30.37 and the period as 6.38 years. Later orbits have used seven positions spanning the period of January 30 to February 25, as well as planetary perturbations. B. G. Marsden (1979) gave the perihelion date as October 30.41 and the period as 6.36 years. S. Nakano (2002) gave the perihelion date as October 30.36 and the period as 6.35 years. K. Kinoshita (2003) gave the perihelion date as October 30.37 and the period as 6.35 years. P. Rocher (1995) gave the perihelion date as October 30.37 and the period as 6.35 years.