George Ellery Hale was the founding father of the Mt. Wilson Observatory. He is shown here in his office in the "monastery" on the mountain, in a picture that dates from about 1905. 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 the Mt. 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 and the Rumford Medal by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1902. In 1904 he received the Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society and the Draper Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. Hale was also one of the first three Honorary Members of the Optical Society of America, and he was the Ives Medalist in 1935.
Through Hale's leadership and foresight, Mt. Wilson Observatory dominated the world of astronomy in the first half of the 20th century. It was here that astronomers and physicists made astrophysics a modern science. It was here that they confirmed what galaxies were. It was here that they verified the expanding universe cosmology. And it was here that they discovered many of the workings of the sun. From the point of view of major scientific discoveries in astronomy, Mt. Wilson Observatory may well be the most productive astronomical facility ever built.
Hale was as influential locally as he was globally. He played a major role in changing the Throop Polytechnic Institute into the California Institute of Technology. He played a major role in convincing Henry Huntington to leave behind what became the Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens in San Marino. As a member of the Pasadena Planning Commission, he was largely resposible for the present Pasadena Civic Center. And, of course, Hale was the force behind the founding of Palomar Observatory and the building of the 200-inch Hale telescope.
After his retirement as Director of the Mount Wilson Observatory, Hale built in Pasadena an office, library, and solar telescope where he could continue work on his greatest observational interest - the Sun. The building known as the Hale Solar Laboratory is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is now on private property and not open to the public.
There are no online biographies of Hale that deal with his time at Mt. Wilson. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific has some biographical material related to his winning their 1916 Bruce Medal. The best books in print on Hale are Explorer of the Universe: A Biography of George Ellery Hale, by Helen Wright, and Pauper and Prince: Ritchey, Hale, and Big American Telescopes, by Donald E. Osterbrock. Another excellent reference, now out of print, is The Legacy of George Ellery Hale: Evolution of Astronomy and Scientific Institutions, in Pictures and Documents, edited by Helen Wright, Joan N. Warnow, and Charles Weiner.
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