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Lick Observatory Records: Series 3 Directors' files
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Arrangement
  • Historical note
  • Preferred Citation
  • Finding aid revision statement
  • Related Materials
  • Scope and Contents
  • Publication Rights
  • Bibliography

  • Contributing Institution: University of California, Santa Cruz
    Title: Lick Observatory Records: Directors' files
    Creator: Lick Observatory
    Identifier/Call Number: UA.036.Ser.03
    Physical Description: 20.42 Linear Feet 34 boxes, 6 oversize boxes, 1 flat file drawer
    Date (inclusive): 1873-2004
    Date (bulk): 1958-1991
    Language of Material: English .


    Collection is open for research.


    This collection is organized into six series:
    • 1. Holden, Edward S.
    • 2. Campbell, William Wallace
    • 3. Aitken, Robert G.
    • 4. Whitford, Albert E.
    • 5. Kraft, Robert P.
    • 6. Herbig, George
    Materials within series are arranged alphabetically unless otherwise specified.

    Historical note

    The Lick Observatory was completed in 1888 and continues to be an active astronomy research facility at the summit of Mount Hamilton, near San Jose, California. It is named after James Lick (1796-1876), who left $700,000 in 1875 to purchase land and build a facility that would be home to "a powerful telescope, superior to and more powerful than any telescope yet made". The completion of the Great Lick Refractor in 1888 made the observatory home to the largest refracting telescope in the world for 9 years, until the completion of the 40-inch refractor at Yerkes Observatory in 1897. Since its founding in 1887, the Lick Observatory facility has provided on-site housing on Mount Hamilton for researchers, their families, and staff, making it the world's oldest residential observatory.
    James Lick was born in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania in 1796, and spent much of his life building organs and pianos in Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well as in South America. In 1847, he moved to San Francisco, where he started purchasing large amounts of real estate that made him a sizable fortune. Near the end of his life he began discussing ways to leave a legacy in the form of a monument of some kind, and settled on the idea of building something that would advance science, technology, and human knowledge. In 1874, Lick set up the first of three trusts to devote $700,000 to the construction of the most powerful and superior telescope in the world. Richard S. Floyd was the president of the board of trustees of the successful third Lick Trust, and Thomas Fraser was the foreman and superintendent of the entire construction project of the observatory. In August 1875, Lick selected Mount Hamilton in Santa Clara County, California as the site for the observatory after consulting with Fraser. One of the conditions of Mr. Lick's donation for the observatory was that the County would construct a suitable road to the summit of Mount Hamilton, which the County agreed to do. Lick passed away in 1876 before the completion of the observatory, and was later buried at the base of the pier of the Great Lick Refractor.
    As chairman of the board of Lick Trustees, Richard S. Floyd was entrusted with making sure the observatory was the greatest of its time. Having no formal training in astronomy or in the use of its instruments, Floyd recruited astronomers Simon Newcomb and E.S. Holden as scientific advisors in planning the buildings and the astronomical equipment. They invited astronomer S.W. Burnham, well known for his work on double stars, to conduct tests on the atmospheric conditions on the mountain, and he found that the observing conditions were among the most favorable he had experienced.
    The main telescope that was initially built at Lick Observatory was the 36-inch equatorial refractor, also known as the Great Lick Refractor, completed in 1888. Alvan Clark & Sons shaped the objective lens, and Warner & Swasey constructed the telescope mounting. With the completion of the Great Lick Refractor and the reconstruction of the Crossley 35-inch reflecting telescope in 1895, the Observatory has been home to some of the world's most powerful telescopes. Early research at the Observatory made important contributions to the development of instruments for detecting, photographing, and taking measurements of celestial objects. The Observatory continued to pioneer research in the astronomical applications of spectroscopy and photography throughout the 20th century with the addition of the Carnegie 20-inch double astrograph camera (1941) and the Shane 120-inch reflector telescope (1959), which at the time of its construction was the second largest reflector after the 200-inch at Palomar Observatory. As of 2015, Lick Observatory leads in extrasolar and extragalactic research with the Katzmann Automatic Imaging Telescope (1998), which searches for supernovae, and the Automatic Planet Finder (2013), which searches for planets capable of sustaining life.
    Some other examples of notable research conducted at the Lick Observatory throughout the decades include the double star survey initiated in 1888 by S.W. Burnham and E.E. Barnard, and continued by director R.G. Aitken and Hamilton Jeffers through the mid-twentieth century, as well as work in radial velocity and spectroscopy started in 1896 by W.W. Campbell, who later became director for almost 30 years. Campbell also oversaw the majority of the Lick Observatory's solar eclipse expeditions through the early 20th century, traveling to multiple locations in Asia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America to study eclipses in their areas of totality.
    The Observatory is currently operated by and headquartered at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is part of the University of California Observatories (UCO) system. The Observatory was originally transferred to the Regents of the University of California by the James Lick Trust in 1888, and was an independent campus of the UC system until 1958, when it was made part of the University of California, Berkeley. On July 1, 1965, the administration of Lick Observatory was officially transferred from UC Berkeley to UC Santa Cruz, and the following year the astronomers relocated their offices and residences to Santa Cruz, along with the astronomy shops, materials from the observatory's library, and historical documents that made up the archives of the observatory. Mary Lea Shane served as the custodian of the archives both on Mount Hamilton and at UC Santa Cruz, preserving and indexing the correspondence, logs, business records, photographs, and research materials from the observatory's history. In 1982, a ceremony was held at the library to name this collection the Mary Lea Shane Archives of the Lick Observatory. These records are now available as the Lick Observatory Records, collection UA 36, in the Special Collections and Archives department of the UCSC McHenry Library.
    For additional references with more information on the Lick Observatory and its history, see the Bibliography section of this finding aid.

    Preferred Citation

    Lick Observatory Records: Directors' files. UA 36 Ser.03. University Archives, University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz.

    Finding aid revision statement

    This finding aid was revised in the Reparative Archival Redescription Project in 2021-2022. Previous versions of this finding aid are available upon request.

    Related Materials

    To access the full-text PDF of Albert E. Whitford's oral history on eScholarship, click the link below:

    Scope and Contents

    This collection includes the professional files of the following directors of the Lick Observatory: Edward S. Holden, William Wallace Campbell, Robert G. Aitken, Albert E. Whitford, Robert P. Kraft, and George Herbig. Materials mostly include correspondence, as well as reports, meeting minutes, subject and topical files, notes, publication reviews, and some research materials.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright for the items in this collection is owned by the creators and their heirs. Reproduction or distribution of any work protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires permission from the copyright owner. It is the responsibility of the user to determine whether a use is fair use, and to obtain any necessary permissions. For more information see UCSC Special Collections and Archives policy on Reproduction and Use.


    Consult the following resources for more information about Lick Observatory:
    • Handbook of the Lick Observatory of the University of California. San Francisco: Bancroft, 1888.
    • Holden, Edward S. A Brief Account of the Lick Observatory of the University of California. Sacramento: State printing Office, 1895.
    • The Lick Observatory Collections Project: Building the Observatory. http://collections.ucolick.org/archives_on_line/bldg_the_obs.html
    • The Lick Observatory Collections Project: The Life of James Lick. http://collections.ucolick.org/archives_on_line/James_Lick.html
    • Lick, Rosemary. The Generous Miser: The Story of James Lick of California. Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1967.
    • Mathews, Henry E. The James Lick Trust. San Francisco, 1918.
    • Neubauer, F.J. "A Short History of the Lick Observatory." Popular Astronomy 58.5 (1950): 201.
    • Osterbrock, Donald E, John R. Gustafson, and W J. S. Unruh. Eye on the Sky: Lick Observatory's First Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
    • Shane, Mary L. H, and Elizabeth S. Calciano. The Lick Observatory. Glen Rock, N.J: Microfilming Corp. of America, 1974.
    • Wright, Helen. James Lick's Monument: The Saga of Captain Richard Floyd and the Building of the Lick Observatory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Professional papers
    Astronomers -- United States -- Archives
    Astronomy -- United States -- History
    Lick Observatory