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James Lick

Born: 25-Aug-1796
Birthplace: Fredericksburg, PA
Died: 1-Oct-1876
Location of death: San Francisco, CA
Cause of death: Natural Causes
Remains: Buried, Lick Observatory, Mount Hamilton, CA

Gender: Male
Religion: Atheist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Business, Philanthropist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Lick Observatory

James Lick had only a brief elementary education and worked as an organ and piano maker in Baltimore, before relocating to Buenos Aires in 1820. There he worked as a carpenter and made a fortune in real estate transactions. He later lived in Valparaiso, Chile, and Lima, Peru, before coming to San Francisco in 1847, where he constructed and operated Lick House, one of the finest hotels in the American West. He invested most of his accumulated wealth in the undeveloped real estate surrounding then-frontier San Francisco as well as properties in San Jose, and became one of the richest men in California. With his success in California, Lick wrote to a neighbor and friend from his time in Peru, chocolatier Domenico Ghirardelli, and urged him to come to San Francisco.

After suffering a stroke in 1873, Lick lived the last three years of his life in a room in his luxurious hotel, where he began to give away much of his fortune. His most well-known philanthropy was the purchase of "a telescope superior to and more powerful than any yet made", which led to establishment of the Lick Observatory. His other endowments included the Pioneer Monument in front of San Francisco's downtown library, as well as the California Academy of Sciences, California School of Mechanical Arts (now Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco), and a home for widows (originally and unfortunately named the Lick Old Ladies Home, but later renamed University Mound Ladies Home). The elaborate glass and iron works of the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park were constructed of materials purchased by Lick, originally intended as a gift to the city of San Jose, but withdrawn after some perceived slight.

Lick's Santa Clara mansion still stands, but the hotel he built and died in was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. He never married, but acknowledged a son from a youthful affair, and left him $150,000 in his will, which was increased to $535,000 after the younger Lick's litigation.

Father: John Lick
Mother: Sarah Long Lick
Girlfriend: Brabara Snavely (dated 1810s, d. 1851, one son)
Son: John Henry Lick (b. 1818)

    California Academy of Sciences Benefactor
    Stroke 1873
    Asteroid Namesake 1951 Lick
    Lunar Crater Lick
    German Ancestry

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