Milton Humason, a high-school dropout who worked as a mule driver and then a janitor at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California, worked his way up to become the assistant of Edwin Hubble, whom he helped to study the spectral redshift of hundreds of galaxies.
At One-Minute Astronomer, we always have a soft spot for the “underdog astronomer”. Someone who overcomes circumstance to make great astronomical discoveries with skill and curiosity and raw enthusiasm.
Today, a snapshot of Milton Humason, a former mule driver and janitor who rose to work with Edwin Hubble to establish the distance scale of the universe and become one of the best-known American astronomers of the 20th century.
Milton Humason was born in Dodge Center, Minnesota in 1891. When he was 14 years old, his parents sent him to a summer camp on Mount Wilson, near Los Angeles. The mountain’s forests and soaring views of southern California stole the heart of the prairie boy. He convinced his parents to let him take a year off school to stay on the mountain and find work.
He never returned to school.
Instead, Humason took up work as a mule driver, hauling lumber up a trail from the Sierra Madre to Mount Wilson to build the new astronomical observatory… an enormous project organized by the astronomy pioneer George Ellery Hale.