The Konkoly Observatory was established as a public institution in Hungary in 1899, when Nicholas von Konkoly Thege (1842–1916) bequethed his private observatory at Ógyalla to the state. Konkoly himself was one of the pioneers in the new science of astrophysics, and he was an expert in astronomical instruments used for photometry and spectroscopy.
In this paper I review, from a global perspective, the 1890s decade as ten years of prodigious achievements in stellar astronomy, with many huge programmes being launched and undertaken in spectral classification, radial velocities, photometry and astrometry. New astrophysical observatories were founded in America and Europe and new large telescopes designed and built, and the first international conferences were held in astronomy.
Astrophysics was still a largely qualitative science in the 1890s, but this was soon to change in the early years of the present century. I review the development of astrophysics in the 1890s, its interaction with new discoveries in physics, and comment on some of the large projects in stellar photometry, spectroscopy and astrometry and especially the influence of photography on observational astrophysics. The place of Nicholas von Konkoly in this overall endeavour is discussed and I pay tribute to his considerable influence and to the observatory he founded. A century of state-funded astronomy in Hungary has been the result.