“Biggest in the World” 1897 - 1908
• Weight of telescope - 6 tons
• Weight of telescope mounting - 50 tons
• Telescope length - 63 feet
• Dome radius - 90 feet
• Movable floor weighs 37.5 tons
• The world’s largest refracting telescope
• Location - Williams Bay, Wisconsin
George Ellery Hale presided over the first official glimpse through the telescope. It was a beautiful cloudless night. They trained the giant telescope toward Jupiter, magnified 400 times. Scientists and dignitaries from all over gazed through the new machine.
“The night was perfectly cloudless...Pres. Harper, of the University of Chicago, first looked through the tube and beheld the mighty planet ...To say that he was pleased with the effect would be far from expressing his feelings. The great telescope was pronounced a success."
-Williams Bay Observer, 1897
Prior to installation at the Yerkes Observatory at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the monster telescope was displayed at the great Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Some thought it was a giant weapon. Hale reassured them that the machine was for peaceful purposes and would uncover the mysteries of the universe.
Shortly after the observatory was completed, the 20-ton movable floor collapsed without warning. Hale thought ahead to the dedication where several hundred people could have been killed. The movable floor was replaced and five months later a crowd of 800 dignitaries stood beneath the telescope and marveled as the giant refractor moved across the sky.
The biggest magnifying glass ever made soon revealed the new worlds Hale promised. Details on the sun, planets and moon dazzled astronomers and the public alike leading one astronomer to say that "we are probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy."
Photo of the Yerkes Observatory