Posts tagged ‘astrophysics’

The observatory building and telescope are outstanding examples of late 19th-century architecture and technical achievement.

Yerkes Observatory, South Entrance

Yerkes Observatory, Side View


In the 1880s, one of the goals of the trustees of the University of Chicago was to establish a first-rate Department of Astrophysics, on par with leading schools of the East.  As part of this aggressive development program, George Hale (1868-1938), son of an influential Chicago family and MIT graduate, was appointed head of the newly established Department of Astrophysics.


Yerkes Observatory, Lobby


Hale, an experienced astronomer, who had invented the spectrahelioscope while still a student at MIT, was the ideal person to advance the goal of creating a great observatory for the University (a spectrahelioscope is an instrument mounted on a telescope, used to study the Sun’s light).  The University could not have found a person with greater intellectual, organizational, conceptual, and promotional abilities than Hale.


Yerkes Observatory, Portico


Yerkes Observatory, Staircase


Hale first located two 42-inch (106.68 centimeters) glass blanks that were originally intended to be used in a telescope on Mt. Wilson, California (just north of Pasadena).  Funds for this new University of Chicago observatory–a monumental undertaking–were provided by the financier, Charles Yerkes, after several meetings with Hale. The building was designed by Henry Ives Cobb.

Yerkes Observatory, Elevator/Platform

Yerkes Observatory, Spiral Stairs


The mount for the telescope was designed and built by Warner & Swasey in Cleveland, and was displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, billed as the largest telescope in the world.  For example, the mount is 43 feet (13 meters) high and weighs 50 tons.  The telescope tube is over 60 feet (18 meters) long and weighs about 6 tons.  Warner & Swasey also built the 90-foot (27 meters) diameter dome and a 73-foot (22.25 meters) diameter elevator platform/floor.


Yerkes Observatory, South Entrance Steps

Yerkes Observatory, Museum Display


We want to thank David Mariotti for writing this blog post and for creating these interesting panoramas.