The original Hubble Telescope


Yesterday, I spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as part of a Physics Department speaker series. Dawn Erb, one of my hosts in the department, was kind enough to send me this awesome photo of Edwin Hubble's personal telescope, from before he finished his Ph.D. The photo came from, Todd Bensenhaver, a friend of a friend of Dawn's, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and owns the telescope today. How did he end up with it?

Edwin Hubble grew up in Louisville, and later worked there for a year as a high-school Spanish teacher and basketball coach. When he left for graduate school at the University of Chicago, he gave his telescope to a fellow teacher, and it has been passed down through his family.


  1. Not sure who the maker of that lovely instrument is, though it looks like a smaller Alvan Clark. Lovely, well made, optical superb… for the early twentieth century. A modern refractor of 10 – 20% smaller aperture would probably be its equal.
    But, yeah, I want one just like it…

    1. @blurb…
      The telescopes that Pier 1 sold a few years back were very similar in appearance; in my previous life, I had dozens of people bring these to me to help them with stargazing.
      Of course, they couldn’t.
      The objective in those was usually a single lens, as opposed to what you would find in even a very cheap (think 50mm) refractor; dual element achromats, either glued or air-spaced. This single lens produces chromatic aberration, and no amount of correction in the eyepiece is going to correct that.
      The Indian made telescopes that you are referring to also used different focusers, helical instead of rack-and-pinion. All sorts of other differences as well (the shape of the objective cell, the mount, what can be seen of the tripod). While the Indian made brass telescopes are generally just decorative, a couple of manufacturers actually used good objectives, but from a mechanical standpoint were still lacking.
      Yeah, I play with old telescopes…

  2. Might be this one?

    In 1895 when Hubble was seven years old, his grandfather bought a small telescope that “simply charmed Edwin,” according to his sister Helen. Hubble became so fascinated with views of celestial objects that he requested “in place of his eighth-year birthday party. . . to be allowed to stay up late to look through the instrument to his heart’s content,” Helen recalled. “The wish was granted.”

    Source: Sharov, Alexander S., and Igor D. Novikov. Edwin Hubble: The Discoverer of the Big Bang Universe, trans. Vitalie Kisin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

  3. Urgent to owner: Please make sure you have a lens cap on. Not a good idea to point a “resting” telescope out a window; possible results if it accidentally points at the sun:

    – severe lens damage
    – fire

  4. I believe Hubble taught in New Albany, Indiana (my hometown), which is across the Ohio river from Louisville.

  5. This telescope is French and was almost certainly made by the Bardou firm in Paris circa 1900. It is not a reproduction, and there should be a maker’s engraved signature on the eye-end of the main tube. Also, however, it is not the sort of instrument that would have been given away by one teacher to another, then or now!

    –A past president of the Antique Telescope Society.

  6. Well – whoever made it – I sure do hope they calibrated their test equipment to a higher standard than the junk Perkin-Elmer originally used on Hubble’s namesake…

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