Michelson’s experiments on The Irvine Ranch helped Albert Einstein develop his theory of relativity. In 1931, Einstein, center, thanked Michelson, left, at Caltech, saying, “Without your work, this theory would today be scarcely more than an interesting speculation.”

Speed of light was first measured on the Irvine Ranch

The experiment helped Einstein develop his theory of relativity

by TOM BERG

Did you know that Michelson Drive is named for a physicist who measured the speed of light on The Irvine Ranch? In 1929, Nobel Prize winner Albert Michelson got permission from James Irvine II to build a mile-long, steel vacuum tube on an Irvine Ranch bean field. Bouncing light off mirrors inside that tube, he became the first person to accurately measure the speed of light. Those measurements helped Albert Einstein develop his theory of relativity. Today, Michelson Drive is one of many Irvine streets named after famous scientists, including:

  • Von Karman Avenue: named for aerospace engineer Theodore von Karman, who co-founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
  • Millikan Avenue: named for physicist Robert Millikan, who named space radiation “cosmic rays.”
  • Kelvin Avenue: named for physicist Lord Kelvin, who devised the Kelvin temperature scale.
  • Noyes Avenue: named for chemist Arthur Noyes, who helped create the National Research Council.
Albert Michelson conducted his historic experiment in a bean field parallel to what is now Armstrong Avenue, between Barranca Parkway and Main Street.