Albert Michelson is a name known to anyone who has taken (and paid
attention during) a course in physics for his being the first person to accurately measure the speed
of light in air. Born in 1852 to Jewish parents in Poland, his family emigrated to America in 1855 initially
settling in Virginia City, Nevada. That happens to be where the fictional TV family of the Cartwrights
owned their sprawling Ponderosa ranch in the series
Bonanza. Screenwriters for the show took a bit of historical liberty in
depicting young Michelson as having attending primary school in Virginia City, whereas the
Nobel Prize website biography has him going to school in San Francisco. Albert,
boy genius, has sacrificed the learning of social graces for the greater goal of science, and thereby
got himself expelled from school because the schoolmaster labeled him a troublemaker. Ben Cartwright's
more learned son, Adam (Pernell Roberts), takes Michelson under his wing and provides the opportunity
needed to nurture and explore crazy ideas like measuring the intensity of sound waves and determining
the speed of light. After getting to know Albert better, local heroes and all-around good citizens Ben,
Little Joe, Hoss, and Adam do some investigation into the claim of troublemaker that ended in expulsion.
I won't spoil the ending, but suffice it to remind you that Albert Michelson did indeed obtain an
appointment to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland (a few miles from where I grew
up), and in 1907 was awarded the Nobel Prize for his precise measurement of the speed of light.
Bonanza: Look to the Stars
Posted April 28, 2017
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