The foundation of Alexander Graham Bell assigned 2,000 USD to young Michelson who was in Berlin, eager to begin work on his experiment. Michelson used this money to have SCHMIDT + HAENSCH manufacture an instrument. His thank-you letter to the Bell Foundation conveys how much importance he attached to the experiment which the Bell contributions had finally made possible:
“I have not however undertaken this work without consulting several prominent scientific men. The answer they all give is that if successful the success would be grand; but that it is at present impossible to say whether the experiments are practicable or not. All, however, advise me to try. So that, with this assurance and that of Prof. Bell, that in either case he will consider the money well spent. I shall begin the work with greater confidence.”
Michelson knew how unique this experiment of testing the aether drift’s impact on the speed of light would be, and thanks to his acquisition of a measuring instrument from Schmidt+ Haensch, it was now actually within reach. He initially had the apparatus set up in the Berlin Mitte district. Temperature fluctuations, however, proved to not be its biggest challenge. Ground vibrations presented a serious problem. For the institute and its director, this discovery was an unexpected and undesirable turn of events. Particularly so, because in previous years, the huge amount of 310,000 Marks had already been invested to isolate the rooms, so as to prevent such ground vibrations. In any case, Helmholtz and Michelson now knew how accurate the measuring equipment truly was.
They finally found the astrophysical observatory in Potsdam to be a quieter place. The test, which would go down in physics history as the first Michelson experiment, could now proceed. The result was disappointing to Michelson. He had wanted to prove that the Earth was moving through the aether.
The Michelson-Morley experiment in 1889 confirmed conclusively that the Earth’s motion against the aether, which had been assumed for a long time, did not actually exist. This discovery created a huge unexplained gap in experimental physics, which was only resolved by Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity. For his groundbreaking research, Albert Abraham Michelson was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1907 and became the first American to receive it.