Lick Observatory is the world's first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory, was constructed between 1876 and 1887, from a bequest from James Lick of $700,000 (approximately $22 million in 2014 US dollars).

James Lick (1796 – 1876) was an American carpenter, piano builder, land baron, and patron of the sciences. At the time of his death, he was the wealthiest man in California, and left the majority of his estate to social and scientific causes. Lick had a adventurous life, that had no too much connection to the astronomy in the beginning. In 1860 he and George Madeira, the founder of the first observatory in California spent several nights observing. They had also met again in 1873 and Lick said that Madeira's telescopes were the only ones he had ever used. In 1874, Lick suffered a massive stroke, and in the next three years, Lick spent his time determining how to dispense with his fortune. He originally wanted to build giant statues of himself and his parents, and erect a pyramid larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza in his own honor in downtown San Francisco. However, through the efforts of George Davidson, president of the California Academy of Sciences, Lick was persuaded to leave the greatest portion of his fortune to the establishment of a mountain top observatory, with the largest, most powerful telescope yet built by man. Lick died in 1876, the observatory was constructed between 1876 and 1887 atop Mount Hamilton and Lick was buried there in 1887 under the future site of the telescope, with a brass tablet bearing the inscription, "Here lies the body of James Lick". Lick additionally requested that Santa Clara County construct a "first-class road" to the summit, completed in 1876. All of the construction materials had to be brought to the site by horse and mule-drawn wagons, which could not negotiate a steep grade. To keep the grade below 6.5%, the road had to take a very winding and sinuous path, which the modern-day road (California State Route 130) still follows. Tradition maintains that this road has exactly 365 turns (This is approximately correct, although uncertainty as to what should count as a turn makes precise verification impossible). Even those who do not normally suffer from motion-sickness find the road challenging.

The 91-centimeter (36-inch) refracting telescope on Mt. Hamilton was Earth's largest refracting telescope during the period from when it saw first light on January 3, 1888, until the construction of Yerkes Observatory in 1897. Warner & Swasey Company designed and built the telescope mounting, with the 91-centimeter (36-inch) lens manufactured by one of the Clark sons, Alvan Graham. E. E. Barnard used the telescope in 1892 to discover a fifth moon of Jupiter. This was the first addition to Jupiter's known moons since Galileo observed the planet.

Lick1  reverseLick 1 obverse

An excellent internal view of the Lick observatory is visible on a bronze medal. The center is dominated by the huge refractor, its size is emphasized by the observer, who is standing on a ladder, and staring into the telescope, and two men who are sitting in chairs. The telescoped is aimed through the opened slit of observatory. Legend around is: "THE WARNER & SWASEY CO." and "CLEVELAND OHIO. U. S. A.", below: "LICK TELESCOPE".

On the reverse the left facing portraits of the two founders and owners of the company mentioned on the obverse are visible. Legend around: "WORCESTER REED WARNER · AMBROSE SWASEY". Below two dates: 1880-1920, reports that this medal was issued for celebrating the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the company named after its founders.

The medal was designed by Victor David Brenner, an american sculptor and medallist, who is best known for his enduring Lincoln cent coin design. His signature can be found below the arm of Swasey.

The observatory can be found on another coin, that was issued for celebrating the San Jose Coin Club 11th annual coin show in 1979, as its reverse states. It shows a clock's face, with 11 and 12 o'clock marked by "comets", other hours by stars. The center of the coin depict the seal of city San Jose. According to their homepage the coin club abandoned the issuing of annual tokens in 2011, after the 43th show. The obverse shows the observatory on the hilltop. Legend above refers to the foundation date of the observatory: "1888 - LICK OBSERVATORY". Below: "SAN JOSE CA." The medalist's - not deciphered yet - signature DB can be seen below the right side of the building.

Lick2  reverseLick 2 obverse

The observatory is managed by the University of California Observatories, with headquarters on the University of California, Santa Cruz, campus, where its scientific staff moved in the mid-1960s.