From Ohio History Central
Dr. John D. Kraus, a professor of electrical engineering and astronomy at The Ohio State University, designed the Big Ear Radio Telescope. Before constructing the Big Ear Radio Observatory, Kraus constructed a prototype telescope on the roofs of two Ohio State buildings. The prototype cost twenty-three thousand dollars, and its purpose was to detect radio waves in outer space. Kraus hoped that his telescope would help find extraterrestrial life in space. This initial telescope proved successful, and Kraus received funding from numerous sources to construct a larger version of his radio telescope.
In 1956, Ohio Wesleyan University agreed to let Kraus and The Ohio State University build a radio observatory on twenty acres of land owned by Ohio Wesleyan. This land was located near Ohio Wesleyan's Perkins Observatory. Kraus chose this site because of its rural
nature -- at least at the time -- and the absence of radio signals that could interfere with the telescope's observations. To reduce the cost of construction, Kraus relied on students to build most of the observatory. Construction took several years, and the telescope and the observatory did not become operational until 1963. The observatory was larger than three football fields.
Kraus's first goal was to map outer space for radio waves. Scientists completed this project in 1973, and they then began to try and detect radio transmissions from extraterrestrial life. The Big Ear Radio Telescope failed to detect definitively extraterrestrial life, however, in 1977, the telescope received a powerful signal, known as the "Wow!" signal. Scientists remain uncertain what generated this signal and have failed to ever receive a similar signal.