George Davidson


Last modified 2021-01-28 14:35:06. Initially published .

A native of Nottingham, England, George Davidson (1825-1911) came to Philadelphia with his parents when he was seven years old. By the age of 17 he was given a responsible position in the observatory at Girard’s College. At the age of 25 in 1850 , he headed an expedition to the West for the U.S. Survey. From his new home in San Francisco he was engaged in determining geographical positions from San Diego to Puget Sound. In 1858 he married Miss Ellinor Fauntleroy of Virginia, whom he brought to California. They spent their honeymoon on Mt. Tamalpais, while he was surveying it.


Professor Davidson’s frequent connection with important events in the history of the United States is well illustrated by his assignments in 1867. In January he was detailed on duty as engineer of a party sent to the Isthmus of Panama to search for the best location for a ship canal. A few months later he was sent to Alaska to report upon resources of that country with a view to ascertaining the advisability of adding it to the United States (which did happen that same year.) He determined the eastern boundary of California and in 1873 he surveyed the Sierra Nevada and Coast ranges.



George Davidson built the West Coast’s first astronomical observatory pictured here in San Francisco’s Lafayette Park in 1879 and is credited for making California home to some of the finest observatories in existence today. For it was through this telescope that his friend, James Lick, got his first close-up look at the sky, which would fascinate him for the rest of his life. A piano maker from Pennsylvania, Lick amassed a $4,000,000 fortune in real estate and would leave $700,000 for the founding of the world’s largest observatory of its time on the Bay Area’s highest peak, Mt. Hamilton. After the 1906 Earthquake Davidson turned his observatory site into a refuge for people that had lost their homes. He is also pictured here in Japan to observe the passage of Venus in front of the Sun in 1873. This telescope is still in regular use at the California Academy of Sciences Hume Observatory in Sonoma County. (Courtesy California Academy of Sciences, which Davidson was President of from 1871 to 1887.)

The Sierra Club asked that San Francisco’s highest hill be named for George Davidson Feb. 22, 1910.


There are three Mount Davidsons in the United States: in San Francisco, California; above Virginia City, Nevada; and in Alaska. Alaska also has the Davidson Mountains, Davidson Inlet, Davidson Bank, and Davidson Glacier. There is a Davidson Seamount southwest of Monterey, California, and an NOAA ship named Davidson. More about George Davidson here:



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