Mount Wilson Observatory's First 100 Years

On December 20, 2004, Mount Wilson Observatory celebrated the Centennial of its founding. In honor of the occasion, we present here a partial list of the significant events and achievements that marked the first century of this historic observatory.

The highlighted links in the timeline and other pages offer related information and pictures from both the Mount Wilson and other historical archives and current web sites. Links to sites external to Mount Wilson will open in a separate browser window. Use your browser's Back button to return here from internal Mount Wilson pages, or click on the Centennial link with the picture of the 100-inch telescope to the left.

This page and the material linked from it are an ongoing project that went online on December 20, 2004, the observatory's Centennial. Additional historical landmarks, articles, historic photos and recollections from staff will be added throughout 2005. By the end of the first year of Mount Wilson's new century we hope to have completed a comprehensive look back at its first 100 years. Please visit us throughout the year!

As one who has had the extremely good fortune to have been associated with the Mount Wilson Observatory for much of its one hundred-year existence, I have vivid memories of its early years. I remember not so much the steel and glass Observatory, but its people. History has bestowed a nearly iconic status on this remarkable group, but they were, after all, real human beings. These were people with character strengths and faults, people with families, people with dedication to their profession yet with a keen interest in the community and the environment in which they worked. They enjoyed many of the same things that most of us do today. Often they were not too busy to have a game of tennis with a callow youth they knew as the son of one of their members. My regret, of course, is that I did not have the maturity at the time to engage them in discussions of cosmology and astrophysics. If I had, however, it is very unlikely that they would have played tennis with me.

On this occasion marking the centennial of the Observatory I do look back on that fabulous era. Even more, however, I look forward to the next one hundred years. Years that will see Mount Wilson continue the rich tradition of its past. Years that will see new generations of astronomers push back the frontiers of science. So lift a glass with me to the second centennial of the Mount Wilson Observatory!

-- Don Nicholson, Associate Deputy Director for Public Affairs, December 20, 2004

Don Nicholson's father, Seth Nicholson, served on the Mount Wilson Observatory staff from 1915 to 1957.
Don has been associated with Mount Wilson for more than 80 years.
Photo of Don Nicholson on Mount Wilson in 1935.
Photo of Don Nicholson at the Hale Solar Laboratory in 2004.Photo by Gale Gant.

Historical Highlights from Mount Wilson Observatory's First 100 Years

Other Pages Related to the Centennial

In 1903
A poem about the first visit of George Ellery Hale, founder of Mount Wilson Observatory, and William Campbell, Director of Lick Observatory, written by early Mount Wilson staff member Harold Babcock. The poem is based in part on Hale's own verbal account of the trip to the author.

100 Years Ago
A month-by-month description of activities on Mount Wilson in 1904 on the Mount Wilson Observatory Association's web site.

Bruce Medallists from Mount Wilson
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) has awarded its highest honor, the Catherine Wolfe Bruce gold medal, for lifetime contributions to astronomy most years since 1898. This is a list of Mount Wilson staff who have won this prestigious award with links to their biographies on J.S. Tenn's Bruce Medalists website.

BBC News article on Mount Wilson's centennial
An article by BBC News about Mount Wilson Observatory's centennial.