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IMPORTANT HISTORICAL FIGURES
An institution is built upon the achievements and goals of the learned individuals who did not merely grace its halls, but who toiled together to build it up brick by brick, accomplishment by accomplishment. The New York State Museum was built on the accomplishments of many such individuals—from the original members of the Geological and Natural History Survey of 1836 to the directors, scientists and staff who, through their varied accomplishments, discoveries and dedication to cultural education, have collectively made the State Museum what it is today.





EDWARD HITCHCOCK    ::    Survey Scientist of District One    ::    (1793-1864)
In May 1836, Edward Hitchcock was appointed to the New York State Geological Survey as lead geologist in the First District, an area covering twenty-one counties in the Hudson Valley Region of New York. Although he traveled extensively during his first two months, amassing over two hundred specimens, he began to experience severe liver inflammation and was forced to resign. Hitchcock was replaced by William Mather.

After leaving the New York State Survey, Hitchcock returned to Massachusetts where his career as a geologist began ten years earlier. Having regained some of his health, he directed Massachusetts' second geological survey from 1837-1840. His contributions to technical geology include research in glacial landscapes, fossils tracks of animals, and metamorphosism.[1]

BACKGROUND AND EDUCATION

Edward Hitchcock was born in Deer-field, Massachusetts in 1793. He began his early career writing almanacs and eventually became an ordained minister. While holding his pastorate in Massachusetts, he made several scientific surveys of the western counties of the state. In 1831, the pastor-turned-geologist was appointed Massachusetts State Geologist, a position he held until until 1844. In 1840, Hitchcock was the first president of the American Association of Geologists and Naturalists. He also taught geology at Amherst College where he wrote Elementary Geology, an extremely popular textbook. From 1857-1861 he served as State Geologist of Vermont. In 1863, Hitchcock was named by Congress as one of the original members of the National Academy of Sciences. He died the same year.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Aldrich, Michele L., New York State Natural History Survey 1836-1842, A Chapter in the History of American Science. (New York: Paleontological Research Institution, 2000), 90.

EDWARD HITCHCOCK

EDWARD HITCHCOCK


WILLIAM MATHER    ::    Survey Scientist of District One    ::    (1804-1859)
In July 1836, William Mather replaced Edward Hitchcock as lead geologist of the First District. Although he started his first field season late, Mather managed to survey the geology of the entire district. His initial reports focused on "economically valuable rocks, texture and composition of soils, and types of alluvial deposits."[1]

Mather's yearly salary averaged $1,100 as he did not participate in the survey full-time. In fact, he was employed by two other states! Concurrent with his responsibilities to the New York State Survey, Mather served as director of the Ohio State Geological Survey from 1837-1840 and assisted with the Kentucky State Geological Survey from 1838-1839, employing a vast network of assistants to collect data and specimens to forward to him in Albany.

In addition to working for three states, Mather opened his own office as a consultant to private companies and landowners who sought advice on mining operations and teamed with fellow survey scientist, James Hall, in a scheme to sell mineral and rock specimens to colleges, societies and collectors![2]

RESULTS OF THE SURVEY

At the conclusion of the Survey, Mather's final report was a quarto of 671 pages, with forty-six colored plates. While he invested little effort on the economic geology sections, Mather contributed greatly to theoretical and descriptive geological discussions. He documented the erosion-deposition cycle that, at the time, was novel to many of his contemporaries.[3] He helped describe the stratigraphy of the Catskills. Mather also observed that coal or iron mining prospects throughout the region were poor and encouraged investors instead to focus on less glamorous substances such as hydraulic cement, building stones, and peat.[4]

AFTER THE SURVEY

From 1845-1847, Mather became a geological surveyor and mining engineer in the service of mining companies on Lake Superior. Eventually, he moved to Ohio where he taught natural science classes at Ohio University (1842-50) and Marietta College (1846). From 1850-1854, he served as Ohio's third Secretary of Agriculture. In 1859 he served on the United States Board of Agriculture until his sudden death that same year at age 55.

BACKGROUND AND EDCUATION

William Williams Mather was born in Brooklyn, Connecticut in 1804. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point from 1823 to 1828 where he received an education well-grounded in the sciences. Upon graduation, he stayed on at West Point and served as Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy and Geology from 1829-1835. In 1833 he earned an A.M. from Wesleyan Univeristy and an LL. D. from Brown University in 1836. He then resigned from the military and began working for the Survey.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Aldrich, Michele L., New York State Natural History Survey 1836-1842, A Chapter in the History of American Science. (New York: Paleontological Research Institution, 2000), 90.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 91.

[4] Ibid, 140.

WILLIAM MATHER

WILLIAM MATHER


EBENEZER EMMONS    ::    Survey Scientists of District Two    ::    (1799-1863)
In 1836, Emmons was appointed lead geologist of the Second District, an area that included the northeastern counties of New York State. In his first field season, he investigated the mountainous area (that he later named the Adirondacks) of Essex County, locating iron deposits and performing topographical studies that helped reveal the best transportation routes through the region. He also discovered that Whiteface, then considered the tallest mountain in New York, was actually smaller than two other peaks, the tallest of which he eventually named Mt. Marcy after Governor Marcy. His investigations of possible mining localities helped enable the McIntrye mine to produce the first high-grade American steel.

Emmons received the full annual salary of $1,500 even though he continued to teach classes at Williams College in Massachusetts.

RESULTS OF THE SURVEY

Emmons described the Potsdam Sandstone, a new stratigraphic unit marking the lowest rock formation in New York and "the first formation named in what was to become the New York System for the Paleozoic era."[1] He also devised the Taconic system, a controversial description of how the Taconic Mountains and rocks of eastern New York and Massachusetts were formed. Emmons dated the rocks as older (Cambrian) while fellow survey scientist James Hall, dated them much younger (Ordovician). Although eventually fossils were discovered supporting Emmon's theory, James Hall's vehement argument against Emmons led to a court battle in 1850 that resulted in Emmons being forever prohibited from practicing geology in the State of New York!

Perhaps one of Emmons's greatest contributions to the State of New York was to help romanticize the Adirondacks as an idyllic location for camping—a pastime that was gaining in popularity at the turn of the century. Before his explorations, the Adirondacks were viewed as cold, sterile, swampy, and dreary. In addition to romantic, detailed descriptions of the lush countryside, Emmons stated in his report, "It [Adirondacks] is finely fitted for the temporary residence of those who are troubled with ennui, or who wish to escape for a time during the months of July and August from the cares of business of the heat and bustle of the city."[2]

AFTER THE SURVEY

Emmons continued to work for New York State at the conclusion of the Survey. Passed over for the position of state paleontologist, Emmons instead conducted an agricultural survey of the State, eventually publishing five volumes dealing with topography, climate, agricultural geology, soils, grains, vegetable products, fruits, and harmful insects in New York.

In 1851, after the bitter court battle with James Hall, he moved to North Carolina where he worked on their state geological survey until his death in 1863. Ironically, his body was returned to the Troy area and he was buried in Albany Rural Cemetery, just a few feet from where his rival, James Hall, would also be buried.

BACKGROUND AND EDUCATION

Ebenezer Emmons was born in 1799. He attended Williams College in Massachusetts where he studied natural science from 1816-1820. Pioneer geologist Chester Dewey was one of his instructors. Following an internship at the Berkshire Medical School, Emmons practiced medicine in Chester, Massachusetts. However, he still longed to pursue his interest in geology, so decided to attend the Rensselaer School (now RPI). There, he was instructed by the eminent professor Amos Eaton, and graduated from Rensselaer in its first class in 1826.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Aldrich, Michele L., New York State Natural History Survey 1836-1842, A Chapter in the History of American Science. (New York: Paleontological Research Institution, 2000), 92.

[2] Emmons, Ebenezer, Geology of New York (New York) 436.

EBENEZER EMMONS

EBENEZER EMMONS


LARDNER VANUXEM    ::    Survey Scientists of District Three    ::    (1799-1863)
Lardner Vanuxem began working for the Survey in 1836 as lead geologist of the fourth district. However, within a year, the Survey districts were redrawn and Vanuxem was transferred to the third geological district, an area occupying central New York State. His early training as a geologist in Paris guided his field work and steered him towards extensive studies in stratigraphy. Vanuxem was paid the full-time salary of $1,500 annually for his work on the Survey.

RESULTS OF THE SURVEY

Vanuxem's report, drafted in 1841, was the first of the geologists' to be completed. As a result of his research, Vanuxem was able to create a "new chemical theory of matter, and with Conrad, "was on the cutting edge of the new science of paleontology."[1] He identified the names and boundaries of several new formations for the New York System, including the Oriskany Sandstone and the Manlius Waterlime Series. He named the index fossils of these new formations. Vanuxem also suggested improvements in salt production that helped increase the state's tax revenue.[2]

In the hope of devising a standard geological nomenclature, Vanuxem, encouraged by his colleagues, wrote letters to other scientists engaged in state surveys inviting them to join the New Yorker scientists at their annual meeting at the end of the field season. Hosted at the home of Ebenezer Emmons in November 1840, this meeting marked the formation of the American Association of Geologists and Naturalists, the society that ultimately became the largest scientific body in the world—the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

AFTER THE SURVEY

Vanuxem moved to his farm in Bristol, Pennsylvania. There, he seemed to leave his scientific work behind and studied religion until his death in 1848.

BACKGROUND AND EDUCATION

Lardner Vanuxem was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1792. Attended the École des Mines (Paris) in 1819 where he studied mineralogy, stratigraphy and chemistry. In 1822-1827, Vanuxem resided in South Carolina where he taught natural science at Columbia College and worked briefly as state geologist. In 1828, he became chief commissioner of the silver mines in Mexico owned by the Tlalcotal Comany of Baltimore.[3]

FOOTNOTES

[1] Aldrich, Michele L., New York State Natural History Survey 1836-1842, A Chapter in the History of American Science. (New York: Paleontological Research Institution, 2000), 81.

[2] Ibid, 123.

[3] Ibid, 71.

LARDNER VANUXEM

LARDNER VANUXEM


TIMOTHY ABBOTT CONRAD    ::    Survey Scientists of District Four & Paleontologist    ::    (1803-1877)
Timothy Conrad was appointed lead geologist of the fourth district of New York. In his first year of field work, Conrad contributed significantly to the development of the New York System of rock nomenclature by identifying several new formations, including the Niagara Formation and the Trenton Limestone. Additionally, he initiated the practice of grouping rock formations into distinct units, now referred to as a geological series and emphasized using fossils rather than physical properties to help determine rock types.

When identifying and naming the rock formations, Conrad was careful and deliberate in his selections, emphasizing the importance of consistency and clarity. Even in areas where his research overlapped work previously conducted by other scientists, Conrad's "new names brought New York rocks closer to other American and European names, allowed a new interpretation of the rocks' histories, and ended confusion of terms."[1]

At the conclusion of the Survey's first field season, so much material had been hauled in by each scientists that it became necessary to appoint someone to strictly to catalog, describe and curate the jumbled collection of rock and fossil specimens. Conrad was assigned this position, becoming New York's first state paleontologist and James Hall, then Ebenezer Emmon's assistant, replaced Conrad as lead geologist of the fourth district. Conrad's work mostly focused on describing mollusks ranging in age from Paleozoic to Recent.

In spite of receiving the full annual salary of $1,500 for his participation in the Survey, Conrad constantly struggled with his finances. He invested money in a number of his own publications. One of which, the Monography of the Family Unionidae, had twelve issues between 1836-1840. While many of the survey scientists sketched their own specimens, Conrad was the only one skilled enough to actually execute full-sized, lithographed, hand-colored plates for publication.

RESULTS OF THE SURVEY

Unfortunately, Conrad was often plagued with bouts of depression. In June 1842 Conrad resigned from his post as Survey paleontologist without ever completing his final report. However, up to the time of his departure, his achievements far exceeded any other individual's efforts toward the taxonomic description of North American fossils. In total, Conrad described over 250 species of fossils. In addition, he helped name new formations in the New York system and sought to correlate New York nomenclature with other American rocks. He was the first person to apply the Devonian System to New York stratigraphy. He aptly observed that fossils appearing across more than one formation could help indicate particular groups of formations (just as fossils of short-lived creatures might mark a single formation), and that the existence of such long-lived creatures helped confirm that gradual changes in climate and geology, as opposed to sudden catastophic geological events, were more likely at the root of extinction. Finally, in abandoning his post and leaving his collections in James Hall's charge, Conrad can be credited with shaping Hall's future career as a world-renowned paleontologist.

AFTER THE SURVEY

In spite of his somewhat embarrassing exit from the Survey, Conrad continued his paleontological studies. In the 1840s he worked on the collections in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. In the 1850s, he began working for the Smithsonian. His financial woes also subsided as a result of shrewd railroad investments. He died in 1877.

BACKGROUND AND EDUCATION

Timothy Abbott Conrad was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1803. He is the only member of the Survey to not formally attend college. Rather, he was tutored in the sciences by his father who taught botany at the University of Pennsylvania. Conrad also studied natural history in the collections of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Prior to 1836, most of Conrad's field work took place in the Southern United States.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Aldrich, Michele L., New York State Natural History Survey 1836-1842, A Chapter in the History of American Science. (New York: Paleontological Research Institution, 2000), 96.

TIMOTHY ABBOTT CONRAD

TIMOTHY ABBOTT CONRAD


LEWIS BECK    ::    Survey Mineralogist    ::    (1798-1853)
Although Dix's report to Legislature outlining the purpose and structure of the Survey did not specifically call for a mineralogist, Governor Marcy recognized the importance of having such a position and, on June 2, 1836, appointed Lewis C. Beck to "conduct an examination, a scientific description, and a chemical analysis of its [New York's] soils and minerals."[1] However, Beck's exact role was vague, particularly in how it was to differ from the other geologists, many of whom immediately distrusted Beck fearing that he would simply usurp their research. To his credit, Beck, immediately established his research as distinct from the other scientists, and ensured that appropriate credit was given when reporting the discoveries of others.

Beck spent four years visiting the most important mineral localities throughout the state, often traveling over 3,000 miles in a single field season. From the beginning, Beck considered the prospects of profitable mining in New York State to be unlikely, and, despite the Governor's and the public's desire to discover untapped riches, his field work exploring iron, lead and zinc mines confirmed his suspicions. In addition, he often criticized the manufacturing techniques of various mining industries throughout the state for sloppy execution, use of poor materials or out-dated equipment, and general mismanagement.

Of all the scientists employed by the Survey, Beck was perhaps the most organized in his data collection. He maintained hundreds of neatly written notebooks divided into columns of facts and interpretations. From these notes, he was able to quickly and accurately compose his annual reports and final report. While working for the Survey, Beck also taught at New York Univeristy and Rutgers. He therefore received a reduced annual salary of $1,100.

RESULTS OF THE SURVEY

Beck published his pioneering research in The Mineralogy of New York in 1842. Divided into two distinct sections, the first half of the report focused on economic questions and covered mining, the description of ores, iron, cement, and salt manufacturing techniques, the origins of deposits and basic theories regarding the processes of synthesis and decomposition. The second section was much more scientific. In addition to listing mineral localities, details of the locations, performing chemical analysis and describing crystal forms, Beck provided a detailed breakdown of all the minerals located in New York State that was much more complex than any recorded before.[2]

Most significant, however, were Beck's contributions to the State Cabinet's collections which ultimately formed the nucleus of the mineral collection of the New York State Museum. In total, he collected over 3,000 specimens.

AFTER THE SURVEY

Beck continued to lecture at Rutgers (1830-1853) and also Albany Medical College (1841-1853). He was employed by the U.S. Patent office as an organic chemist to publish on adulterations of food. He also wrote new editions of his previously published chemistry and botany texts. Beck died in 1853 at the age of 55.

BACKGROUND AND EDUCATION

Lewis C. Beck was born in Schenectady, New York, in 1798. He graduated from Union College in 1815. From 1819-1822, he explored the geography and natural history of the American West. He was recruited by Amos Eaton to conduct field work for the Rensselaer County survey of 1822. From 1826-1832 he taught Chemtry and Botany at the Vermont Academy of Medicine. In 1831 he wrote A Manual of Chemistry. Despite his emphasis on chemistry and mineralogy, Beck was also an accomplished botanist. In 1833 he published Botany of the Northern and Middle States.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Aldrich, Michele L., New York State Natural History Survey 1836-1842, A Chapter in the History of American Science. (New York: Paleontological Research Institution, 2000), 87.

[2] Ibid, 201.

LEWIS BECK

LEWIS BECK


JAMES ELLSWORTH DE KAY    ::    Survey Zoologist    ::    (1792-1851)
James De Kay began his fieldwork as Zoologist for the Survey in July 1836, concentrating initially on the counties surrounding New York City and eventually making his way as far as Buffalo. In order to collect information and specimens for his reports, he not only conducted rigorous fieldwork on his own, but also drew extensive amounts of information from resources already familiar with the territory and fauna—local farmers, hunters and fishermen.

During the winter months, he studied the specimens he collected and employed a draftsman, John W. Hill, to draw those of particular interest. Although De Kay did not submit annual reports between 1837 and 1838, it was apparent he was hard at work. By April 1839, he had provided full descriptions and drawings for 700 of the nearly 2,300 animals he collected or observed.[1] De Kay received the full annual salary of $1,500 for his work on the Survey.

RESULTS OF THE SURVEY

De Kay's research was published from 1842-1844 in five quarto volumes entitled Zoology of New York: comprising detailed descriptions of all the animals hitherto observed within the state of New York, with brief notices of those occasionally found near its borders, and accompanied by appropriate illustrations. The first volume was dedicated to mammals and was bound with Governor Seward's introduction to Survey reports. The remaining volumes covered reptiles and amphibians, fishes, mollusks and crustaceans, and birds. In total, De Kay described seven classes, thirty-seven orders, 140 families, 427 genera, and 1107 species of animals in New York, not including insects. De Kay made a deliberate effort to write the text in non-technical language so that it would appeal more to general readers. He also dedicated much of each species' description to how the animal might benefit humans, remarking on the commercial possibilities of fish or which animals might be domesticated, for example.[2]

While his work was considered monumental for its pioneering knowledge of previously undocumented fauna, his critics noted that the Zoology of New York contained too many descriptions of non-New York species (including the Florida manatee!) In an 1839 letter to Seward, De Kay had announced that he planned to include species of animals located outside of New York State, justifying this by stating he would "save other naturalists the effort and present to the citizens of New York with a useful reference book rather than a monograph on one state's animals."[3] Although excessive, his inclusion of almost every animal that he could think of led to the discovery and description of 95 new species. DeKay's publication was also strongly criticized for the astronomical cost of publication. At approximately $130,000, the the expense seemed unjustifiable in spite of the lengthy descriptions, detailed illustrations and inclusion of local vernacular and Indian names to describe the fauna.[4]

AFTER THE SURVEY:

In 1851, De Kay drafted the Catalogue of the Cabinet of Natural History of the State of New York and of the Historical and Antiquarian Collection Annexed Thereto (published in 1853). He died later that year. Notable among his accomplishments, De Kay was largely responsible for building the library and collections of the Lyceum of Natural History of New York. Throughout his career as zoologist, he wrote more than 55 manuscripts on topics including the description of modern fish and invertebrate species, fossil vertebrates and invertebrates, geology and the progress of natural history. In 1826, De Kay was one of the first scientists to call for a uniform system of nomenclature to assist scientists with securing their discoveries and descriptions of species. On a side note, De Kay often wrote articles for on art for various New York periodicals and was one of only five non-artists named an honorary member of the National Academy of Design.[5]

BACKGROUND AND EDUCATION:

James De Kay was one of the most traveled of the Survey scientists. He was born in Lisbon, Portugal, attended schools in New York City and Connecticut, including Yale from 1807-1812, and eventually received his M.D. from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1819. He returned to the United States and was one of the earliest and most active members of the Lyceum of Natural History of New York. He traveled to Turkey in 1831, serving as a physician on a frigate built for the Sultan of Constantinople's navy. In 1832, he returned to New York where he became famous for prescribing port wine as a remedy for cholera, earning him the nickname, "Dr. Port."[6] Once back in the United States, he left his practice as a physician and focused his efforts on the study of natural history, namely the description and cataloguing of biological specimens.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Aldrich, Michele L., New York State Natural History Survey 1836-1842, A Chapter in the History of American Science. (New York: Paleontological Research Institution, 2000), 82-83.

[2] Ibid, 166.

[3] Ibid, 126.

[4] Aldemaro Romero Homepage, "James Ellsworth De Kay," Arkansas State University Center for Learning Technologies, http://www.clt.astate.edu/aromero/new_page_31.htm (accessed March 31, 2008)

[5] Larkin, Susan G., "'A Delicious Day': Robert Weir's Greenwich Boat Club" American Art Journal 33, no. 1/2. (2002): 28.

[6] Aldermaro Romero Homepage.

JAMES ELLSWORTH DE KAY

JAMES ELLSWORTH DE KAY


JOHN TORREY    ::    Survey Botanist    ::    (1793-1873)
John Torrey was appointed Botanist to the Survey in July, 1836. He spent the first few months of his field work in southern New York, studying and collecting plants from Long Island, the Catskills and the lower Hudson watershed. Winter months were spent cataloguing and describing specimens. The following year, faced with the insurmountable task of collecting plants from the whole of New York State, Torrey devised an exchange network with colleagues who would send him plants from different regions of the state, saving him time and sparing the state the expense of travel funds. This exchange was not merely one-sided. In return for their efforts, Torrey was held responsible for describing the plants he received and dispensed advice on proper preservation methods.[1] The summer of 1837 was spent exploring the Adirondack Mountains where he discovered a rare alpine flora.

While employed by the Survey for the reduced salary of $1,100 annually, Torrey also taught classes in chemistry and collaborated on several publications external to the research he conducted for New York State. One such publication, the Flora of North America, greatly detracted from his work on the Survey. A collaborative work with Asa Gray, an emerging botanist, Flora occupied almost all of Torrey's time in 1838. Although the publication was not very profitable, it "was the first rigorous, advanced reference work which tried to cover all of the plants of the North American continent"... and made the "natural system of classification the hallmark of professional work in botany."[2]

RESULTS OF THE SURVEY

Torrey published two quarto volumes on the Flora of New York State in 1843. Curiously, much of the material was borrowed from Flora of North America. Regardless, his work was considered pioneering in the identification and classification of American plants and greatly influenced all subsequent taxonomic work. Torrey was considered the first professional botanist of the West. He advocated the "natural system" of classification that was replacing Linnaeus' artifical system.

AFTER THE SURVEY

Torrey continued to lecture on chemistry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons and at Princeton until 1855. He continued to describe plants sent to him from correspondents throughout the country and Mexico. He also worked as Assayer for the United States Mint. In 1858 he founded the Botanical Club of New York, renamed the Torrey Botanical Club in 1870. Throughout the 1860s and 1870s, he traveled through California, Colorado, Panama and Florida. Torrey built one of the most valuable herbaria and botanical libraries in the United States, which he donated to Columbia College in 1860 and which ultimately was given to the New York Botanical Garden in 1899.

BACKGROUND AND EDUCATION

John Torrey was born in 1796. He began his study of natural history around the age of 16 when his father was appointed Fiscal Agent of the State Prison where Amos Eaton, a renown geologist, was serving time for alleged fraud. Torrey was fortunate enough to make Eaton's acquaintance and was encouraged by him to pursue chemistry and mineralogy. In 1817, he collaborated in the preparation of "A Catalogue of Plants Growing Spontaneously within Thirty Miles of the City of New York," often referred to as "Torrey's catalog." In 1818, Torrey earned his M.D. from the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons where he became cofounder of the Lyceum of Natural History.

In spite of opening a medical practice in New York, he continued to conduct extensive studies of plants in northeastern United States and even identified specimens mailed to him from government expeditions in the western United States. in 1824, he published the Flora of the Northern and Middle Sections of the United States. He held numerous teaching positions in the fields of chemistry, minerology, natural history and geology at the West Point Military Academy (1824-1827), the College of Physicians and Surgeons (1827-1855), and the College of New Jersey (Princeton; 1830-1854).

FOOTNOTES

[1] Aldrich, Michele L., New York State Natural History Survey 1836-1842, A Chapter in the History of American Science. (New York: Paleontological Research Institution, 2000), 85.

[2] Ibid, 134.

JOHN TORREY

JOHN TORREY


JAMES HALL    ::    Survey Scientist of District Four    ::    (1811-1898)
James Hall began working for the Geological and Natural History Survey at age 25 as an assistant to Ebenezer Emmons in the second district (northern New York). While working for Emmons, he reported on the iron deposits of the Adirondacks. However, at the end of the first field season, the Survey districts were revised and Hall was appointed as lead geologist of the fourth district. Although young, Hall quickly established himself as an important geologist. In his initial annual reports, Hall balanced his research between economic geology relevant to citizens of the fourth district along with his own interest in the area's stratigraphy.[1] Hall was responsible for naming a number of geologic systems within the final New York system including the Onondaga Limestone.

RESULTS OF THE SURVEY

Hall covered a territory of 10,000 square miles, over a fifth of the total area of New York state. His final report, a monograph on the fossils and stratigraphy of the state’s fourth district published in 1843, received international acclaim for its descriptions of Paleozoic fossils and stratigraphic subdivisions. Hall became known as the “Founder of American Stratigraphy.”

AFTER THE SURVEY

Although, technically, funding for the Geological and Natural History Survey terminated at the conclusion of its fourth year, Hall essentially refused to stop working. In 1843, his diligence earned him the title of state paleontologist and the reward of additional funding. In 1857, he constructed a laboratory building (the building still stands in Lincoln Park, near downtown Albany, New York) where he conducted research and helped educate future paleontologists. Hall continued to work for the State Cabinet and ultimately became the first director of the New York State Museum in 1870.

While working for the State of New York, Hall was hired by a number of other states, including California, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, New Jersey, and Ohio, to assist with their surveys. In 1850, he participated in a geological survey of northern Michigan and Wisconsin where he identified the first fossil reefs ever found in North America. In 1857, Hall delivered an address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in which he proposed his theory on the formation of mountains by sedimentation (though Hall's theory ultimately proved incorrect, he was one of the first to draw attention to large-scale stratigraphic patterns). Hall also devoted much time to the crystalline stratified rocks and was the first to use their mineralogical character as a guide to classification. Along with John Torrey, he was a founding member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1863. Hall was elected as the first president of the Geological Society of America in 1889. In total, he published more than 42 books, 200 articles, and contributed sections to several federal and state publications on geology.


FOOTNOTES

[1] Aldrich, Michele L., New York State Natural History Survey 1836-1842, A Chapter in the History of American Science.  (New York:  Paleontological Research Institution, 2000), 109.

JAMES HALL

JAMES HALL






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