James Hall at Cohoes

History of the New York State Geological Survey

In 1818, with the support of Governor Clinton, Amos Eaton gave a series of lectures before the State Legislature in which he stressed the need for systematic natural-resource surveys. He led the way by undertaking several resource surveys in Albany and Rensselaer Counties and along the Erie Canal. In 1834 the Legislature directed Secretary of State John Dix to formulate a plan to complete a 4-year survey of the natural resources of New York State. They provided $26,000 annually to fund the project.

Part of the legislated charge of the new Survey was to:

“…compile an accurate and complete geological survey of the State, which shall be accompanied with proper maps and diagrams, and furnish a full and scientific description of its rocks, soils and minerals…”

On April 15, 1836, Governor Marcy appointed the first staff of the New York Geological and Natural History Survey. The Legislature divided the State into four districts for this survey and appointed a Chief Geologist for each. Four geological assistants, including James Hall, were also appointed.

The work of the Survey was far from complete when the legislated 4-year period ended. James Hall refused to stop his work and continued as originally directed until he had completed his report on the State’s paleontology. To finance the effort, he lobbied the Legislature for additional funds, which he often received. He also sold parts of the paleontology collection to finance the Survey’s continued work in the years when he was denied support. In 1894, Hall completed his report. The result was 14 quarto-size volumes, which were publish as the Paleontology of New York.

In 1843, the State named James Hall State Paleontologist and appropriated additional funds to continue the Survey. This same legislation also established the State Cabinet of Antiquities. Further legislation in 1845 placed the State Cabinet under the aegis of the State Board of Regents. In 1870, the Legislature renamed the State Cabinet the New York State Museum of Natural History and designated James Hall as its Director. Hall meanwhile retained the titles of State Geologist and State Paleontologist. As State Geologist, State Paleontologist, and Director of the Museum, Hall answered to three different supervisors. This administrative tangle was corrected in 1883, when it placed all scientists of the State Museum under the supervision of the Board of Regents.

As the Chief Geological Scientist, Hall considered the geological paleontological research of the museum a product of the “Geological Survey of New York,” even though no formal designation of such an internal unit of the State Museum was ever proclaimed. At that time, geological surveys were starting throughout the nation with many receiving advice or direction from Hall. Thus, the New York State geological research program became a model for the design of these other state surveys. Hall and his successors, therefore, found it expedient to refer to their organization and staff as the New York State Geological Survey

In 1945 the State Legislature accepted a plan to reorganize the scientific sections of the state and thus created the New York State Science Service. It included Geological, Anthropological, and Biological sections. These three sections were formally established as surveys in 1955. In 1986 these surveys were placed under a new Director of Research and Collections. This is the current administrative organization.

During its 175-year history, the New York State Geological Survey has amassed a collection of over 600,000 rocks, minerals, and fossils and published descriptions of the geology of New York in more than 600 bulletins, circulars, memoirs, maps, leaflets, and other special documents, as well as thousands of articles in professional journals.



The New York State Geological Survey (NYSGS) is a bureau of
the New York State Museum in the New York State Education Department.