In 1880, fourteen men in horse-drawn wagons laden with tools and black powder made the switchbacking journey up the new dirt road to Mount Hamilton. They had come to level the summit for an observatory named for the eccentric millionaire James Lick (1796-1876), whose wish to be remembered had led him to fund this new satellite of the University of California.
70,000 tons of rock had to be blasted away before the first brick could be laid. In 1888, the world’s first permanently occupied mountaintop observatory began operation.
Since its founding in 1888, Lick has been a part of the University, hosting countless research projects conducted by UC astronomers, their students, and collaborators worldwide. University of California Observatories (UCO), headquartered at UC Santa Cruz, also includes partnerships in the two 10-meter Keck telescopes in Hawai’i and the international 30-Meter telescope project, and operates technical labs at USCS and UCLA.
It all started here on Mount Hamilton. As you walk around, you’ll find other wayside signs that tell the story of Lick Observatory.