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 James Lick

James Lick

Fredericksburg, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 1 Oct 1876 (aged 80)
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, USA
Burial Mount Hamilton, Santa Clara County, California, USA
Memorial ID 1869 · View Source
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Businessman, Land Baron, and Philanthropist. He is remembered for funding an observatory at the summit of Mount Hamilton near San Jose, California, with the largest and most powerful telescope yet built by man, named the Lick Observatory in his honor. His father was a carpenter and he began learning the trade at an early age. In 1817 he relocated to Baltimore, Maryland where he learned how to construct pianos and then moved to New York City, New York and established his own piano manufacturing business. In 1821 he moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina upon learning that his pianos were being exported to South America. In spite of the political turbulence in Argentina, his business thrived. In 1832 he returned briefly to his Pennsylvania home but soon returned to Buenos Aires. He then moved his piano business to Valparaiso, Chile and after four years he moved again to Lima, Peru. In 1846 he decided to return to the US and, anticipating the Mexican-American War and the future annexation of California, he decided to settle there. However, a backlog of orders for his pianos delayed him an additional 18 months, as the Mexican workers he employed left to return to their homes and join the Mexican Army following the outbreak of the war in April of that year and he completed the orders himself. In January 1848 he arrived in San Francisco, California and began buying real estate there and farmland in and around San Jose, where he planted orchards and built the largest flour mill in the state to help feed the growing population in San Francisco. In 1861 he began construction of a hotel in San Francisco which became known as Lick House. The hotel had a dining room that could seat 400, based on a similar room at the palace of Versailles and it was considered the finest hotel west of the Mississippi River. The hotel was destroyed in the fire following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. In 1874 he suffered a massive stroke and was taken to the Lick House Hotel to receive better medical care. That same year, he placed $3 million dollars in a trust to be used for specific purposes, including the construction of an observatory with the most powerful telescope than any other in existence. He died in the Lick House Hotel at the age of 80. At the time of his death, he was the wealthiest man in California, with estates in Santa Clara County and San Francisco, large real estate holdings around Lake Tahoe, a large ranch in Los Angeles County, and all of Santa Catalina Island. He left the majority of his estate to social and scientific causes. In 1887 his body was moved to its final resting place, under the future home of the Great Lick Refracting Telescope. The crater Lick on the Moon and the asteroid 1951 Lick are named after him.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 1869
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for James Lick (25 Aug 1796–1 Oct 1876), Find A Grave Memorial no. 1869, citing Lick Observatory, Mount Hamilton, Santa Clara County, California, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .