Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay Set to Close by University of Chicago

WISN 12 New featuring Yerkes Observatory with the largest refracting telescope in the world in 2013.

The Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, owned by the University of Chicago is set for closure. University of Chicago is scheduled to cease operations at the 100 year-old observatory on October 1, 2018. Currently, there is no information regarding a possible sale (or details regarding preservation) of the world-renowned facility.

Yerkes Observatory features a 40-inch refractor telescope and a 24-inch reflector telescope. The observatory’s 40-inch (102-cm) diameter doublet lens refracting telescope, the largest telescope ever successfully used for astronomy. The facility also includes other telescopes and at least two smaller domed observatories.

Tours are available at the observatory, which is over 120 years old.

“Unfortunately, operating Yerkes no longer makes sense for the university from a programmatic or cost standpoint. Drawing to a close our operations there is the first step in a collaborative process to determine the ultimate disposition of the buildings and property. We currently have no specific plans nor have we approached any potential buyers.”

— David Fithian, Executive Vice President University of Chicago

The Yerkes Observatory was established by University of Chicago in 1897, and has enabled important work by scientists such as George Ellery Hale, Edwin Hubble (Hubble Space Telescope namesake), Carl Sagan and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. The observatory, which is known as “the birthplace of modern astrophysics,” was founded in 1897 by astronomer George Ellery Hale and financed by businessman Charles T. Yerkes. Albert einstein was photographed at the observatory on May 6, 1921.

The university’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics was located there from the time Yerkes Observatory opened until it was relocated to the Hyde Park campus in the 1960s.

Today, University of Chicago’s observational astronomy research has shifted to using astronomy and astrophysics facilities located all over the world and in space.

Yerkes Observatory, founded in 1897 by George Ellery Hale and financed by businessman Charles T. Yerkes, is the birthplace of modern astrophysics. The observatory changed the face of astronomy from being a mere housing of telescopes and astronomers to being an integration of optics with a laboratory for chemistry and physics (

A slightly longer than normal (24 minute) Sky at Night, broadcast in March 1988, about the Yerkes Observatory.

See also …

373 W. Geneva St, Williams Bay, Wisconsin (Latitude 42 34.2, Longitude -88 33.4) …