MWO founder George Ellery Hale atop Mt. Wilson, 1904 Huntington Library


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George Ellery Hale

George Ellery Hale, the founding father of the Mount Wilson Observatory, is shown here in a picture that dates from about 1905, in his office on the mountain, in the "Monastery."

Despite having no earned degree beyond his baccalaureate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1890, Hale became one of the leading astronomers of his day. By the time Hale established Mount Wilson Observatory in 1904, he had already invented the spectroheliograph, founded the Astrophysical Journal (and invented the word astrophysics), founded the Yerkes Observatory (which then housed the world's largest working telescope), and had been appointed a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He had been awarded the Janssen Medal by the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1894, The Rumford Medal by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1902, and in 1904 received the Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society, and the Draper Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.

Under his leadership, Mount Wilson Observatory dominated the world of astronomy throughout the first half of the 20th century. It was here that the expanding universe cosmology was born, it was here that astronomers discovered what galaxies were, and it was here that astronomers and physicists gave birth to the modern discipline of astrophysics and uncovered the workings of the sun. From the point of view of raw scientific discovery, Mount Wilson Observatory may well be the most productive astronomical facility ever built.

George Ellery Hale was driven to build ever larger and more powerful telescopes. He was directly responsible successively for the world's four largest telescope: the Yerkes Observatory 40-inch refractor (still the largest refracting telescope ever built), the Mount Wilson 60- and 100-inch reflectors, and the Mount Palomar Observatory 200-inch reflector - appropriately named the Hale Telescope.

Hale was as influential locally as he was globally. He played a major role in changing the old Throop Polytechnic Institute into the California Institute of Technology, and he was instrumental in convincing Henry Huntington to leave behind what became the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.

A wonderful documentary film entitled Journey to Palomar tells the incredible story of this remarkable man's life.