Expanding Horizons
First Light
Gentleman Astronomers
1845: Leviathan of Parsontown
1859: Spectroscopy
1897: Yerkes Refractor
More Glass
Sky High

Telescope History

Gentleman Astronomers

The Industrial Age brought unprecedented prosperity to much of the world. Mechanized agriculture and textile manufacturing, steam power for transportation, quick long-distance communication, and other advances improved incomes and quality of life, creating the modern middle class.


William Lassell’s 48-inch reflecting telescope

The Industrial Age also created a bevy of rich industrialists. With fortunes securely in hand, many of them became patrons of astronomy or turned to astronomy themselves. This class of "gentleman astronomers" made significant discoveries, and contributed to astronomical technology by designing and building new equipment.

In 1846, for example, William Lassell, who had made a fortune selling beer to shipyard workers in England, discovered the first known moon of Uranus. He had ground his own telescope mirror, built the telescope and observatory, and even designed a new type of mounting that made it easier for the telescope to track its targets.

Wealthy industrialists also financed the construction of some of the world's largest telescopes, many of which are still in use today.

These men were some of the dominant forces in the field of astronomy during the 19th and early 20th centuries, helping establish the observatories and institutions that would provide some of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century.

Stepping Up to the Stars

Key dates and inventions in the quest to see deeper into the universe.


The Leviathan

William Parsons, the Earl of Rosse, builds ‘the Leviathan of Parsonstown,’ a telescope with a 72-inch mirror.


A 'Burning' Discovery

spectroscopeGustav Kirchoff and Robert Bunsen invent a device that will become the most important tool for future telescopic observations: the spectroscope.


Yerkes Refractor

YerkesYerkes Observatory in Wisconsin dedicates the 40-inch refractor, which remains the largest refractor in the world.

Next: More Glass