The Yerkes 40-inch Refractor
The great 40-inch Yerkes refractor was Hale's first major telescope. It weighed six tons. In 1897, it had the biggest refracting lens ever made, drawing scientists from all over the world. This telescope marked the birth of modern astronomy where the color of starlight was studied with unprecedented resolution. Hale managed to secure half a million dollars from the infamous Chicago streetcar baron Charles T. Yerkes in order to build this revolutionary machine, but the money didn't come easily.
Mount Wilson is one of the most historic places in all of astronomy. First the 60-inch, then the 100-inch telescope began to clear up a heated debate as to the size of the universe. The evidence would surprise everybody and change astrophysics forever. The construction began in 1904 in the remote San Gabriel range near Los Angeles. Dynamite crews blasted the granite. Men and mule teams dragged enormous steel parts 5,000 feet up the narrow mountain trail year round, ignoring the dangers.
In 1948, the Palomar 200-inch telescope became the biggest telescope in the world. It was a million times more powerful than the human eye. It had taken decades to complete. George Ellery Hale would never see his greatest masterpiece. A new generation of astronomers began to discover objects and phenomena so exotic that they couldn't believe what their own data was telling them: quasars 100 times brighter than whole galaxies and 12 billion light years distant. In the 1980s CCD technology made the telescope 100 times more powerful still.