Patrons of Paleontology: How Government Support Shaped a Science

By Jane P. Davidson | Go to book overview

3
DEVELOPMENTS IN
GOVERNMENT SUPPORT
FOR PALEONTOLOGY IN THE
UNITED STATES BETWEEN
1830 AND ABOUT 1880

Following the model of a federal military geological survey established by Thomas Jefferson for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a number of states began their own geological surveys in the 1820s and 1830s. The enthusiasm for the establishment of state geological surveys is a testament to the entrepreneurial climate of the relatively new United States of America. It seems clear from an examination of these early nineteenth-century state surveys that state governments were eager to gain knowledge about the geology and natural resources of their areas in order to better use whatever resources they could find to improve the economies of their states. These early state surveys in turn would help to shape additional national geological and railroad surveys that would be established throughout the United States beginning toward the middle of the century and beyond. As well, some of the men who were involved with early state surveys also went on to work with later national surveys. In their turn, the early nineteenth-century American state geological surveys were also a model for various provincial and national geological surveys established in Canada, and other parts of the world, including provinces and colonies in Australia.

They are fraught with strange
meanings, these footprints of
the Connecticut.

—Hugh Miller, in Edward
Hitchcock’s Ichnology of New
England

I am exceedingly sorry not to
have been able to send you a
proof of your paper. The
stupid printer has given me
an immense deal of trouble
with his delays and mistakes.

—Joseph Leidy to Ferdinand

V. Hayden, June 3, 1859,
Hayden Papers

These state surveys were similar in outline to that of Lewis and Clark in that they were supposed to gather and disseminate information on the natural resources and geological features of the given state. But these early surveys also included the developing science of paleontology. Again, this is in large measure because those who founded and worked for the early state surveys were at times involved in paleontology. Some of the early state geologists (i.e., directors of the surveys) were themselves paleontologists. And those who went to work for the surveys were also at times paleontologists who were, as always, on the lookout for monetary support for research or venues for publications. The pattern of reaching out for governmental support and getting that support was already entrenched. The oldest state survey, that of South Carolina, was established in 1825. This was followed in the ensuing decade by (in alphabetical order) Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee. Each of these states established surveys in the next few years. The Massachusetts and Tennessee surveys began work in 1830 and 1831, respectively.1 These were

After fourteen hours in the
saddle, one of the soldiers,
exhausted with heat and
thirst, finally exclaimed,
“What did God Almighty
make such a country as
this for?”
“Why,” replied another more
devout trooper, “God
Almighty made the country
good enough, it is this
deuced geology the professor
talks about that spoiled it
all.”

—Charles E. Betts, “The Yale
College Expedition of 1870”

The National Academy of
Sciences is hereby required at
the next meeting to take into
consideration the method
and expenses of conducting

-50-

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