Edwin Hubble, Family, and Friends in Louisville


Hubble Family Homes
Shelbyville and Louisville

John Powell Hubble
Died 1913
Cave Hill Cemetery

Edwin Hubble
with friends
New Albany
Summer 1914

Edwin Hubble, Teacher
New Albany High School

Edwin Powell Hubble was born in Marshfield, Missouri, on November 20, 1889. Sixty four years later he was the most famous astronomer of his time when, on September 28, 1953, he died unexpectedly at his home in San Marino, California.

In 1931 Hubble had announced a law now named for him, that the spectra of galaxies were shifted to the red in proportion to their distance from us. His discovery of the relationship between red shift and distance was instrumental in establishing the paradigm that the universe has been expanding since its creation in a hot Big Bang.

Hubble used large reflecting telescopes -- the 100-inch on Mt. Wilson and the 200-inch on Mt. Palomar -- to identify individual stars in galaxies outside our Milky Way. He dedicated much of his career to measuring the spectra of faint galaxies and determining their distances from the properties of the stars within them. When the shift of wavelength in the spectrum is interpreted as a speed of recession, the Hubble Constant which characterizes it measures the age of the universe.

The Hubble Space Telescope, released into orbit in April 1990, was designed to observe the heavens without interference from the Earth's atmosphere. It allows us to see to great distances, looking back in time to view galaxies as they were when first formed. One of the primary reasons the Space Telescope was built was to determine a precise value of the Hubble Constant.

Edwin Hubble was the son of John Powell and Virginia James Hubble. After receiving a degree from the University of Chicago, he spent the summer of 1910 with his family at 928 Bland Avenue in Shelbyville, Kentucky. His father, a manager for National of Hartford Insurance, had moved them there from Chicago in 1909 so that they could live in a small town. Edwin had been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, and he departed Shelbyville by train in September to begin his journey to Oxford, England. There he received a B.A. in law, following the path set by his father, who strongly objected to Edwin's interest in a career in astronomy.

In 1911 the family moved to 1318 Brook Street in Louisville. His father died at home there in the winter of 1913 while Edwin was still in England. John Powell Hubble is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery.

Edwin returned to Louisville that summer to look after his mother, two sisters (Helen, Lucy Lee), and a brother (Henry). Of others in the family, a sister (Virginia) had died as a child, and a brother (William) was a student at the University of Wisconsin, who spent the summer of 1913 with the family in Louisville. To provide enough room for everyone when Edwin arrived, the family moved to 1287 Everett Avenue, where Edwin lived with them for the following year. During the summer Edwin translated Spanish documents for an import company, and that fall he was hired to teach Spanish, physics, and mathematics, and to coach basketball, at New Albany High School. An accomplished athlete himself, he led the team to a third place finish in the state championship tournament. His popularity as a teacher is recorded in the school yearbook which is dedicated to him. When the school term ended in May, 1914, Hubble applied to return to the University of Chicago as a graduate student in astronomy. He left Louisville for good in August 1914 when he moved to Yerkes Observatory to begin his career as an astronomer. The family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, two years later.

Gale E. Christianson has written an authoritative biography -- Edwin Hubble, Mariner of the Nebulae (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 1995) -- that documents Hubble's career and describes the year he spent in Louisville. Research on Hubble's Louisville connection was also done by Joel A. Gwinn, and was published in Edwin Hubble in Louisville, 1913-1914, Filson Club History Quarterly, 56 (October 1982), 415-419.

The photographs of Edwin Hubble with the Roberts and Hale families in New Albany are courtesy of John R. Hale. For higher resolution versions and permission to reproduce those images or the ones from New Albany High School, please contact the Emilio Segrč Visual Archives of the AIP Center for History of Physics

Last update: November 20, 2019
kielkopf at louisville.edu