Professor Albert Abraham Michelson: Nobel Prize Winning Jewish Physicist from Calaveras County, California

Albert Abraham Michelson

Values Codes I – H – E – L – P


Albert Abraham Michelson was born in 1852 in Strzelno, Prussia, near Posen.


Albert A. Michelson

Albert A. Michelson

Calavaras County

In 1855, Samuel and Rosalie Michelson brought their son to California, where they settled in Murphy’s Camp in Calavaras County.

Samuel operated a dry goods store across the state line, in nearby Virginia City, Nevada.

The family lived in Calaveras County while Albert was educated in San Francisco, graduating Lowell High School in 1869.


Life as a Physicist

In 1869, Albert Michelson began his studies at the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis,  receiving his appointment from President Grant.

After graduating in 1873, Michelson entered the United States Navy as an Ensign.

Albert Michelson taught physics and chemistry as the Naval Academy from 1875 to 1879.

In 1878, Michelson discovered that light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, later refined to 186,284 miles per second. 

This discovery became the basis for Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Albert A. Michelson

Albert A. Michelson

In 1880, Albert Michelson studied in Berlin, Heidelberg, and College de France.

From 1883 to 1889, Michelson taught at Case University in Cleveland.

From 1889 to 1892, Michelson taught at Clark University in Worchester, Massachusetts.

From 1892 to 1928, he was the head of the physics department at the University of Chicago, returning to the Navy during WWI.

In 1907, Albert Michelson won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his optical precision instruments, and the spectroscopic and metrological investigations carried out with their aid.

Albert Michelson was the first American Jew to receive this award.

In 1928, Michelson returned to California to work for the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. 



In 1923, Albert Michelson was elected president of the National Academy of Sciences.

In 1970, Michelson was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

He received numerous honorary doctorates.

According to Robert Milikan, Albert Michelson is one of the “three most remembered American physicists.”

Albert A. Michelson, Los Angeles,1928, #WS2536

Albert A. Michelson, Los Angeles, 1928, #WS2536


Albert Michelson married Margaret Heminway in 1877.

They had three children: Albert, Truman (1879-1938), and Elsa.

Margaret Michelson passed away in 1897.

In 1899, Albert Michelson married Edna Stanton.

They had three children: Beatrice (1904-1972), Madeleine, and Dorothy.

Edna Michelson passed away in 1931.

Professor Albert A. Michelson died in 1931 in Pasadena, California.

He is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum in Altadena, California

Albert Michelson Elementary School is in Murphy’s Camp, California.

Michelson Drive is one of the major streets in Irvine, California. Three synagogues are located on that street.


  • Norton B. Stern, “Professor Albert A. Michelson: From the California Gold Country, Calaveras County, to the Nobel Prize for Physics, 1852-1931,” Western States Jewish History 41/4.

Samantha Silver is the Curator of this Michel A. Michelson exhibit