Professor Albert A. Michelson, the famous scientist, who was the first Jew to receive the Nobel Prize (in 1907) and whose experiments to determine whether the supposition that there is “ether” in space has any foundation in fact are regarded as the starting point of Professor Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, has died at Pasadena, in California. Professor Michelson, who was in his 79th. year, was at work right up to the last day at the Mount Wilson Observatory, where Professor Einstein during his stay at Pasadena last summer was engaged in research work at the same time that Professor Michelson was completing his experiments in measuring the speed of light.
For the last six years Professor Michelson was constantly battling with illness. In 1925 his condition became so bad that his life was despaired of, and he had to undergo a major operation at Chicago Hospital. The doctors stated that the operation was necessary to save his life and had been deferred only during the period of his experiments. He recovered, and a few months after he was back at his work at Chicago University, where he held the Chair in Physics. In June 1925, when thirteen professors of Chicago University retired on reaching the age limit of 65, an exception was made in Professor Michelson’s case, although he was already over 72 years of age, and he was retained in his professorship, resigning only a few months ago, when he was already 78 and felt that he needed all his remaining strength to complete his last experiments on the velocity of light.
In the summer of 1929 he was again in hospital, and in October of that year he was reported to be at the point of death. The doctors held out little hope for him on account of his age. By December, however, a few days before his 77th. birthday, he was discharged after having spent six months in hospital, and on his return home he said: Tell the boys in the shops that I shall be back with them soon. I am feeling fine and expect to be back at work shortly.
Because of a misunderstanding of a belated report of his critical illness which had reached the Academie des Sciences of the Institut de France, of which he was a corresponding member, his death was announced at its meeting in Paris, and the entire European Press, including that of England, from the “Times” downward, published long obituary notices of “this physicist of original genius and remarkable achievement”. The J.T.A. was alone in not publishing the erroneous report of his death, being able on enquiry by cable to the New York office of the J.T.A. to correct the report the same day.
Professor Michelson was thus added to the number of famous men who were able to read their own obituaries, He soon after went to Pasadena to continue his experiments at Mount Wilson Observatory for reducing to a finer figure his calculations of the speed at which light travels.
A month ago, in the early part of April, he was again reported (in the J.T.A. Bulletin of April 6th.) to be seriously ill as the result of overwork on his experiments. He never the less went on with his experiments, and last Friday a cable from New York (in the J.T.A. Bulletin of the 9th. inst.) announced that his death was imminent. In a state of collapse, he still went on dictating from his bed the conclusions of his latest experiments, until he was suddenly paralysed and was unable to finish.
Professor Michelson who was born in Strelno, in Germany; was brought to America by his parents as a child. While still a young man, working as an instructor at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, he began to devise methods for improving the determination of the velocity of light.
Like Professor Einstein, who is a lover of music and plays the violin, Professor Michelson was a lover of the arts, and in 1928 he held an exhibition in Chicago of his landscapes, portraits and caricatures, and explained that although he had never received any real instruction in painting he had been drawing since his student days. He had always been primarily interested, he said, in the aesthetic side of life and it was through aesthetics that he had become interested in science.
He combined a poetic imagination with the scientist’s exacting precision, it has been said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.