Beneath a wide dome at the Cincinnati Observatory stands a towering telescope that, centuries ago, revolutionized astronomy. The elm, mahogany, and brass telescope was once the third-largest in the world. Its immense size enabled astronomers to see faint, faraway stars. And as for social impact, the telescope was the first in America open for public use. “It didn’t matter who you were,” says Kelsey Stryffe, Observatory docent. “If you wanted to see the moon, you could come see the moon.”
But how did the groundbreaking telescope get here? In 1845, local astronomer Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel purchased a lens in Munich originally crafted for the Tsar of Russia. The assembled instrument was stationed at Mt. Adams, named for former president John Quincy Adams after he gave the observatory’s dedication speech. Much has changed since then—the observatory moved to Mt. Lookout and boasts a second, more technically advanced telescope—but the “people’s telescope” continues living up to its nickname. Still in active use today, anyone can use the instrument to explore the celestial world.