William Wright was an engineer and astronomer who studied celestial features using spectroscopy. His photographs and scientific publications from the early 1900s provide reference points that researchers have been able to use to deduce the motion and evolution of objects in space over time.
Wright studied civil engineering at the University of California and completed his bachelors degree in 1893. His interests then turned toward mathematics and astronomy. He worked for a summer at the Lick Observatory near Santa Cruz, California, and the following year he worked at the Yerkes Observatory in Chicago. In 1897, he was appointed assistant astronomer at the Lick Observatory.
Wright moved to Santiago, Chile, in 1903 to establish a new branch of the Lick Observatory—it was named the Mills Observatory—on a mountain ridge just outside the city.He helped transport the equipment from California to the new site and made necessary repairs and adjustments. For the next three years, he gathered more than 900 spectrograms from more than 250 stars. Wright then returned to the Lick Observatory in Californiaand began analyzing and publishing the results of his expedition to Chile, as well as pursuing new research on topics such as the rotational motion of stars.
Wright received his D. Sc. from Northwestern University in 1929. He served as director of the Lick Observatory from 1935 to 1942, and he retired two years later.He received the Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, the Janssen Medal of the Paris Academy of Sciences, and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.