History of the Observatory

Early astronomy on the prairies of Illinois (1872-1896)

Astronomy was first taught at the Illinois Industrial University in 1868, during the school's first year. Descriptive Astronomy consisted of lectures, use of Sir Norman Locker's Astronomy textbook and the application of practical astronomy by use of sextant, meridian circle and theodolite. Read more...

George W. Myers and the founding of the Observatory (1896-1900)

Most University of Illinois students  probably paid little heed to a brief notice in the 12 March 1897 Daily Illini : "The Astronomical Observatory is now fully equipped with the necessary instruments, and Prof. Myers is improving his opportunity and making observations every clear evening." Read more...

Joel Stebbins and the birth of photoelectric photometry (1903-1922)

Being too ambitious to stay at Mount Hamilton or Berkeley, Dr. Joel Stebbins decided Illinois provided promising prospects, so he accepted the directorship of the Observatory in 1903. The early years of his administration brought many changes. Read more...

Robert Baker, author and star counter (1923-1951)

Baker was a logical choice for the next director because of his experience with photometry and working with modest size telescopes. His research would include photometry but also photographic star counting. Perhaps his most significant contribution would be his books. Read more...

George McVittie and the modern department (1951-1972)

By 1951, the University was considering abandoning astronomy and incorporating the Observatory and the elementary classes back into the Mathematics Department Harvard astronomy Harlow Shapley explained that with Illinois' large research budget and excellent physics, chemistry and math departments, the Astronomy Department should be expanded. In an inspired suggestion, he recommended Dr. George C. McVittie as a possible new leader. Read more...