Rensselaer Alumni and Faculty Appointed to First State Geological Surveys

The mid 19th century marked the ascension of the United States into the forum of science, long dominated by Europe.  Geology was one of the first disciplines to emerge because of the nation’s dependence on natural resources.  States recognized the need to locate deposits of base and precious metals, coal, and other resources.  They recognized the need to evaluate economically favorable locations for canals, turnpikes, and later railroads. Policy makers saw how this immerging science could help forward their interests, and they rushed to institute surveys of their states.

These state geological surveys greatly advanced the young science of Geology.  As in Europe, researchers noted that deposits of valuable materials occurred in rocks with similar fossil assemblages.  They quickly realized that many deposits result from a common environment present during a common time in the history of the earth.  This led to serious study on the processes involved in the formation of these deposits, as well as other noneconomic rocks.  Today, the state surveys continue this legacy, investigating the earth to the benefit of their citizens.

The Rensselaer School (now RPI), with its emphasis on applied science, was a natural training ground for geological surveyors.  Many of the earliest surveys included alumni and former professors of Rensselaer.   Most were the first to document geological information about North America.  Several, such as Hall, Emmons, Houghton, and Horsford, became well-recognized leaders in science during the 19th century.

Some of these early survey geology pioneers are listed below.  The department of Earth & Environmental Sciences is proud of its history in the formation of the state geological surveys, as we continue to train new leaders in the study of the Earth.

Edward A. H. Allen
Rensselaer (1850)
Rensselaer Professor (1851-1855)
New York
Assistant State Geologist (1836)
Lewis C. Beck Rensselaer Junior Professor (1824-1829)
New York
State Mineralogist (1836)
James Curtis Booth
UPenn (1829)
Rensselaer (1831)
Assistant to H.D. Rogers (1836)
State Geologist (1839)
Caleb Briggs Jr.
Rensselaer (1835)
Assistant to William Mather (1837)
Assistant to W.B. Rogers (1839)
George W. Boyd
New York
Assistant State Geologist (1836)
Assistant to W.B. Rogers (1839)
Ezra S. Carr
Rensselaer (1838)
New York
Assistant State Geologist (1836)
State Geologist (1857)
George Cook
Rensselaer (1839)
Rensselaer Professor (1853)
New Jersey Assistant State Geologist (1854),
State Geologist (1864)
Ebenezer Emmons
Williams (1818)
Rensselaer Junior Professor (1830-1839)
New York
North Carolina
Geologist (1836)
State Geologist (1852)
James Hall
Rensselaer (1832)
Rensselaer Professor (1832-1836)
New York

Assistant State Geologist (1836)
State Geologist (1837)
State Geologist (1855)
State Geologist (1857)
Eben Horsford
Rensselaer (1840)
New York Assistant State Geologist (1836)
Douglas Houghton
Rensselaer (1829)
Rensselaer Professor (1829)
Michigan Founder, State Geologist (1837)
Michael Tuomey
Rensselaer (1835)
South Carolina
State Geologist, (1843)
State Geologist (1848)
Robert P. Whitfield
Rensselaer Professor (1877-78)
New York Paleontologist (1856)

©2005 RPI E&ES

Compiled for the web by J.D. Price

Thanks to Amy P. Rupert at the Rensselaer Archives Department.


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