Department of Astronomy

George Ellery Hale, twenty four at the time of his appointment, was tasked with developing Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University. On a trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts he heard about forty inch telescope lenses that were originally intended for a planned observatory on Mount Wilson in California. The lens had been manufactured in France and shipped to the U.S. but were presently languishing in Cambridge due to lack of funds to complete the project. Hale seized the opportunity and convinced Charles Yerkes, a traction magnate, to fund the purchase of the lenses and the construction of the telescope at a cost of one hundred seventy thousand dollars. Yerkes was later convinced to fund the construction of the entire observatory and the new Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin was named for him.

The lens mountings were put on display at the Columbian Exposition in Hyde Park in 1893 as an attraction. They were installed in the completed Yerkes Observatory in 1897. Displayed is a copy of the program of events to celebrate the opening of Yerkes.

Hales wrote many letters to President Harper about his ideas for the department. Below is a letter detailing his plans for acquiring the telescope and funding the project.

Hale's Letter to Harper

From Box 1 Folder 1, George Ellery Hale Papers, University of Chicago Library Archives.

Program for Dedication of Yerkes Observatory

From: Folder 193, Archival Building Files - Yerkes Observatory. University of Chicago Library Archives.