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Who Was George Willis Ritchey?

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George Willis Ritchey (1864-1945)


George Willis Ritchey
Credit: The University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory

Ritchey made the large photographic reflecting telescope a basic instrument of astronomical research. His father was an amateur astronomer who fled Ireland for America during the potato famine of the mid 19th century. The family settled in Cincinnati, where Ritchey attended the Cincinnati University. He also took a special scientific course and served as an assistant at the Cincinnati Observatory. Ritchey married, moved to Chicago, and continued his experiments on telescope construction and astronomical photography. Ritchey met the director of the University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory, George Ellery Hale. Hale envisioned the work of an observatory as including experimentation with instruments. He made Ritchey superintendent of the optical shops and of all instrument construction at the Yerkes Observatory. When Hale established the Mount Wilson Observatory, Ritchey moved there with him. Ritchey eventually had a falling out with Hale and left Mount Wilson, but not before designing both the 60-inch and 100-inch telescopes.

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