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Bonanza and the Michelson-Morley experiment

Busy as I am, I got a later start to the day yesterday than I meant to. I had the TV on, and I was all set to walk down to the coffee shop and do some work, when I saw that my favorite episode of Bonanza (and one of my favorite episodes of any show) was on TV land.

It starts off with a young man on top of a roof doing an experiment with some mirrors. He accidentally ignites a bail of hay Hoss is carrying. His father runs out into the street shaking his fist and yelling at him in a thick Eastern European accent about his "crazy experiments".

The young man's name is Albert Michelson, the son of Jewish immigrants to Virginia City, Nevada. Like many young men who are characters in westerns, he is a good boy who just needs some discipline. Unlike most such young men, he is a real historical figure who became a famous scientist. The real Michelson really did live in Virginia City, Nevada, where Bonanza is set.

He goes to stay on the Cartwright ranch for a while. There are a lot of amusing scenes where the Cartwrights help him with experiments and he explains the math and science behind them to Hoss and Little Joe. Call me a geek, but there is little that amuses me more than seeing Hoss Cartwright get a trigonometry lesson.

Only at the end of the episode, in a voiceover, do they mention that this young man is the same Michelson who helped conduct the famous Michelson-Morley experiment. The first time I saw this episode, years ago, I had not figured out who the kid was until the end. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I found out who he was. That's what makes it such a great episode.

Seeing it makes me wish I had a DVR. It would be fun to step through this and see how many of the experiments he was doing on the show foreshadowed his later famous experiment. (He does talk a lot about measuring the speed of light). On the other hand, it's probably good that I don't. I have enough geeky diversions in my life already


unfortunately my favorite episode would have to be the one with the leprechauns