George Ellery Hale

George Ellery Hale


Date of Birth
June 29, 1868
Date of Death
February 21, 1938

George Hale began studying the solar spectrum as a wealthy teenager in Chicago. As an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he invented the spectroheliograph. He worked in his private Kenwood observatory two years before joining the faculty of the University of Chicago, for which he built the Yerkes Observatory and its 40-inch refractor. To expand solar observations and promote astrophysical studies he founded Mt. Wilson Observatory, where he discovered that sunspots were regions of relatively low temperatures and high magnetic fields. He hired Harlow Shapley and Edwin Hubble as soon as they finished their doctorates, and he encouraged research in galactic and extragalactic astronomy as well as solar and stellar astrophysics. Due to ill health, Hale retired from the Mt. Wilson Observatory in 1923 and spent most of his remaining years on solar research at his private Hale Laboratory in Pasadena. Hale planned and raised funds for 60-, 100-, and 200-inch reflectors, the last completed on Palomar Mountain and named for him after his death. He played a major role in founding or rebuilding the American Astronomical Society, the Astrophysical Journal, the California Institute of Technology, the National Academy of Sciences and its Proceedings, the National Research Council, and the Huntington Library.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Aitken, R. G.PASP 28, 12-25 (1916).

Other awards

American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Rumford prize, 1902.
Franklin Institute, Elliot Cresson medal, 1926; Ben Franklin medal, 1927.
French Academy of Sciences, Janssen Medal, 1894.
National Academy of Sciences, Henry Draper Medal, 1904.
Optical Society of America, Frederic Ives Medal, 1935.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1904, presented by H.H. TurnerMNRAS 64, 388-401 (1904)
Royal Society, Copley Medal, 1932.

Biographical materials

Abetti, Giorgio, “Recollections of George Ellery Hale,” Leaflets of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 8, 287-94 (1961) [Leaflet #387].
Adams, W.S.Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science 21, 181-241 (pdf).
Bitterman, Jay, Lake County Astronomical Society
Club Astronomique du Val de Loir [in French]
Florence, Ronald, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 461-63.
Glass, Ian, Revolutionaries of the Cosmos: The Astro-Physicists (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, UK, 2005).
High Altitude Observatory, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Mt. Wilson Institute
Newall, H.F., Obituary Notices of the Royal Society of London 2, 523-29 (1936-38).
Seares, F.H., “George Ellery Hale: The Scientist Afield,” Isis 30, 264 (1939).
Sheehan, William and Donald E. Osterbrock, “Hale’s ‘Little Elf’: The Mental Breakdowns of George Ellery Hale,” Jour. Hist. Astron. 31, 2, 93-114 (2000).
Tenn, Joseph S., “George Ellery Hale: The Thirteenth Bruce Medalist,” Mercury  21, 3, 92 (1992).
Wright, Helen, Dictionary of Scientific Biography 6, 26-34.
Wright, Helen, Explorer of the Universe: A Biography of George Ellery Hale (Dutton, NY, 1966; American Institute of Physics, Woodbury, NY, 1994).
Wright, Helen, J. N. Warnow, & Charles Weiner, eds., The Legacy of George Ellery Hale: Evolution of Astronomy and Scientific Institutions in Pictures and Documents. (MIT Press, Cambridge, 1972).
Zirin, Harold, “George Ellery Hale, 1868-1938,” Solar Physics 5, 435-41 (1969).
More sources


Adams, W.S.Ap.J. 87, 369-88 (1938).
Babcock, Harold D.PASP 50, 156-65 (1938).
Dunham, Jr., Theodore, MNRAS 99, 322-28 (1939).
New York Times, 22 February 1938.
Newall, H.F., Obituary Notices of the Royal Society of London 2, 523-29 (1936-38).
More obituaries


AIP Center for History of Physics
Caltech Archives
Friedman, Jon R., Portrait Sketch
Hale Solar Observatory
The Mars Society, Toronto Chapter
Library of Congress: autographed drawing by Robert Kastor
University of Chicago

Named after him

Minor Planet 1024 Hale.
Lunar crater Hale.
Martian crater Hale.
The Hale solar sector boundary.
The Hale Telescope (aka the 200-inch or the 5-m).
George Ellery Hale Prize of the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society.
The George Ellery Hale Elementary School


Papers, etc.

Personal papers, oral history interviews, and many photographs are at the Caltech Archives. There are more papers, including those as director of the Mt. Wilson Observatory, at the Huntington Library. Both of these sets were used to make the Hale Microfilms, which include most of Hale’s correspondence and much more on 100 reels of microfilm. There is a finding aid at Caltech.

Other References: Historical

Adams, Walter S., “Early Days at Mt. Wilson,” PASP 59, 213-231285-304 (1947).

Adams, Walter S., “The History of the International Astronomical Union,” PASP 61, 5-124 (1949).

del Toro Iniesta, Jose Carlos, “On the Discovery of the Zeeman Effect on the Sun and in the Laboratory,” Vistas in Astronomy 40, 241-56 (1996).

Florence, Ronald, The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope (HarperCollins, NY, 1994).

Franch, John, “Astronomical Figures,” University of Chicago Magazine 89, 3, ? (Feb. 1997).

Frost, Edwin B., “The Yerkes Observatory: A Retrospect of Twenty-five Years” The University Record IX, 1 (1923).

Hale, George E., “Yerkes Observatory University of Chicago, Bulletin No. I.,” Ap.J. 3, 215 (1896).

Hale, George E., “The Third Conference of Astronomers and Astrophysicists,” Ap.J. 10, 211-20 (1899) [The founding of what is now called the American Astronomical Society].

Hale, George Ellery, Ten Years' Work of a Mountain Observatory; a Brief Account of the Mount Wilson Solar Observatory of the Carnegie institution of Washington (Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, DC, 1915).

Hearnshaw, J. B., The Analysis of Starlight (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1986).

Hoskin, Michael A., “The ‘Great Debate’: What Really Happened,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 7, 169-182 (1976).

Howard, R., “Eight Decades of Solar Research at Mount Wilson,” Solar Physics 100, 171 (1985).

Kevles, Daniel J., “George Ellery Hale, the First World War, and the Advancement of Science in America,” Isis 59, 427-29 (1968).

Kevles, Daniel J., “‘Into Hostile Camps’: The Reorganization of International Science in World War I,” Isis 62, 47-60 (1971).

Kevles, Daniel J., The Physicists: the History of a Scientific Community in Modern America (Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1978; Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1987, 1995).

Lankford, John. American Astronomy: Community, Careers, and Power, 1859-1940 (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1997).

Osterbrock, Donald E., “Founded In 1895 By George E. Hale and James E. Keeler, The Astrophysical Journal Centennial,” Ap.J. 438, 1, 1 (1995).

Osterbrock, Donald E., “The 1910 Meeting of the International Union for Cooperation in Solar Research,” Mercury 14, 152-53 (1985).

Osterbrock, Donald E., “Failure and Success: Two Early Experiments with Concave Gratings in Stellar Spectroscopy,” JHA17, 119-29 (1986).

Osterbrock, Donald E.Yerkes Observatory: The Birth, Near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1997).

Osterbrock, Donald E.Pauper and Prince: Ritchey, Hale, and Big American Telescopes (Univ. of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ, 1993).

P[lummer], H.C., “A Week with Hale,” Observatory 62, 152-54 (1939).

Seares, F.H., “George Ellery Hale: The Scientist Afield,” Isis 30, 241-267 (1939).

Sponberg, Brant L. and David H. DeVorkin, “The Origin of the American Astronomical Society,” c. 1999.

Trefil, James & Margaret Hindle Hazen, Good Seeing: A Century of Science at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1902-2002 (Joseph Henry Press, Washington, DC, 2001).

UCLA, “The 150-Foot Solar Tower History,”

Yerkes Observatory Virtual Tour

Search ADS for works about Hale

Other References: Scientific

Hale, George E., “Note on Solar Prominence Photography,” Astr. Nach 126, 81/82 (1891).

Hale, George E., “The Kenwood Physical Observatory,” PASP 3, 30-34 (1891).

Hale, George E., “Solar Prominence Photography,” Astr. Nach 127, 211/12-213/14 (1891).

Hale, George Ellery, “The Astrophysical Journal,” Ap.J. 1, 80-83 (1895).

Hale, George Ellery, “On a New Method of Mapping The Solar Corona Without an Eclipse,” Ap.J. 1, 318-34 (1895).

Hale, George E., “The Yerkes Observatory,” Astr. Nach. 140, 305/06 (1896).

Hale, George E., “The Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago: I.Selection of the Site,” Ap.J. 5, 164-80 (1897); II. “The Building and Minor Instruments,” Ap.J. 5, 254-67 (1897); III. “The Instrument and Optical Shops, and the Power House,” Ap.J. 5, 310-17 (1897); IV. “The Forty-Inch Telescope, Dome, and Rising Floor,” Ap.J. 6, 37-47 (1897).

Hale, George E., “On the Comparative Value of Refracting and Reflecting Telescopes for Astrophysical Investigations,” Ap.J. 5, 119-31 (1897).

[Hale, George E.], “The Dedication of the Yerkes Observatory,” Ap.J. 6, 353-61 (1897).

Hale, George E., “On the Presence of Carbon in the Chromosphere,” Ap.J. 6, 412-14 (1897).

Hale, George E., “On the Spectra of Stars of Secchi’s Fourth Type,” Ap.J. 8, 237-240 (1898).

Hale, George E., “Heat Radiation of the Stars,” Yerkes Obs. Bull. 11, 1-3 (1899).

Hale, George E., F. Ellerman, & J.A. Parkhurst, “Changes in the spectrum of Nova Persei,” Ap.J. 13, 238-40 (1901).

Hale, George E., “Solar Research at the Yerkes Observatory,” Ap.J. 16, 211-33 (1902).

Hale, George E., “A Study of the Conditions for Solar Research at Mount Wilson, California,” Ap.J. 21, 124-50 (1905).

Hale, George E., “The Solar Observatory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington,” Ap.J. 21, 151-72 (1905).

Hale, George E., “The Development of a New Observatory,” PASP 17, 41-52 (1905). (conclusion)

Hale, George E., “A Program of Solar Research,” Ap.J. 23, 1-5 (1906).

Hale, George E. & Walter S. Adams, “Photographic Observations of the Spectra of Sun-Spots,” Ap.J. 23, 11-44 (1906).

Hale, George E. & Ferdinand Ellerman, “The Five-Foot Spectroheliograph of the Solar Observatory,” Ap.J. 23, 54-63 (1906).

Hale, George E. & Walter S. Adams, “Sun-spot Lines in the Spectra of Red Stars,” Ap.J. 23, 400-05 (1906).

Hale, George E., “The Spectroscopic Laboratory of the Solar Observatory,” Ap.J. 24, 61-68 (1906).

Hale, George E., Walter S. Adams, & Henry G. Gale, “Preliminary Paper on the Cause of the Characteristic Phenomena of Sun-Spot Spectra,” Ap.J. 24, 185-213 (1906).

Hale, George E., “A 100-inch Mirror for the Solar Observatory,” Ap.J. 24, 214-18 (1906).

Hale, George E., “Opportunities for Solar Research,” PASP 19, 27-33 (1907). (conclusion)

Hale, George Ellery, “A Vertical Coelostat Telescope,” Ap.J. 25, 68-74 (1907).

Hale, George E. & Walter S. Adams, “Second Paper on the Cause of the Characteristic Phenomena of Sun-Spot Spectra,” Ap.J. 25, 75-94 (1907).

Hale, George Ellery, “Some New Applications of the Spectroheliograph,” Ap.J. 25, 311-314 (1907).

Hale, George Ellery, “The Tower Telescope of the Mount Wilson Solar Observatory,” Ap.J. 27, 204-12 (1908).

Hale, George Ellery, “Preliminary Note on the Rotation of the Sun as Determined from the Motions of the Hydrogen Flocculi,” Ap.J. 27, 219-29 (1908).

Hale, George E., “On the Probable Existence of a Magnetic Field in Sun-Spots,” Ap.J. 28, 315-43 (1908) [reprinted in Ap.J. 525, 31 (1999) with commentary by John Harvey.]

Hale, George Ellery, The Study of Stellar Evolution: An Account of Some Recent Methods of Astrophysical Research (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1908). (review by H.F. Newall)

Hale, George E., “The 150-Foot Tower Telescope of the Mount Wilson Solar Observatory,” PASP 24, 223-26 (1912).

Hale, George E., “Preliminary Results of an Attempt to Detect the General Magnetic Field of the Sun,” Ap.J. 38, 27-92 (1913).

Hale, G.E., F.H. Seares, A. van Maanen, & F. Ellerman, “The General Magnetic Field of the Sun. Apparent Variation of Field-Strength with Level in the Solar Atmosphere,” Ap.J. 47, 206-54 (1918).

Hale, G.E., F. Ellerman, S.B. Nicholson, & A.H. Joy, “The Magnetic Polarity of Sun-Spots,” Ap.J. 49, 153-78 (1919).

Hale, G.E., “The Angular Diameter of α Orionis,” MNRAS 81, 166-67 (1921).

Hale, G.E., “Nature of the Hydrogen Vortices Surrounding Sun-spots,“ PASP 37, 268-75 (1925).

Hale, George E. & Seth B. Nicholson, “The Law of Sun-Spot Polarity,” Ap.J. 62, 270-300 (1925).

Hale, G.E., “The Spectrohelioscope,” PASP 38, 96-100 (1926).

Hale, George E., “The Spectrohelioscope and its Work,” Ap.J. 70, 265-311 (1929)Ap.J. 71, 73-101 (1930)Ap.J. 73, 379-412 (1931); and Ap.J. 74, 214-22 (1931).

Hale, George E., “The Astrophysical Observatory of the California Institute of Technology,” Ap.J. 82, 111-39 (1935).

Hale, George E., “The Brightness of Prominences as Shown by the Spectrohelioscope,” MNRAS 95, 467-68 (1935).

Hale, George Ellery & Seth Barnes Nicholson, Magnetic Observations of Sunspots, 1917-1924 (Carnegie institution of Washington, Washington, D.C., 1938).

Search ADS for works by Hale

Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Hale, George E., “The Astronomical Exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition,” PASP 4, 123-25 (1892).

Hale, George Ellery, “The Work of a Modern Observatory, ” PASP 27, 161-78 (1915).

Hale, George Ellery, The New Heavens (C. Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1922).

Hale, George Ellery, The Depths of the Universe (C. Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1924).

Hale, George Ellery, Beyond the Milky Way (C. Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1926).

Hale, George Ellery, Signals from The Stars (C. Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1931).

Hale, George Ellery, “Work for the Amateur Astronomer: How to Build a Small Solar Observatory, ” PASP 28, 53-60 (1916) and 40, 285-302 (1928).

Hale, George E., “Some of Michelson’s Researches,” PASP 43, 175-85 (1931).