Josiah Whitney bigraphy, stories - American geologist

Josiah Whitney : biography

November 23, 1819 - August 15, 1896

Josiah Dwight Whitney (1819–1896) was an American geologist, professor of geology at Harvard University (from 1865), and chief of the California Geological Survey (1860–1874). Through his travels and studies in the principal mining regions of the United States, Whitney became the foremost authority of his day on the economic geology of the U.S. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States, and the Whitney Glacier, the first confirmed glacier in the United States, on Mount Shasta, were both named after him by members of the Survey.

Early years

Whitney was born November 23, 1819 in Northampton, Massachusetts, the oldest of 12 children. His father was Josiah Dwight Whitney (1786–1869) of the New England Dwight family. His mother was Sarah Williston (1800–1833). He was the brother of grammarian and lexicographer William Dwight Whitney (1827–1894). He was educated at a series of schools in Northampton, Plainfield, Round Hill, New Haven and Andover. In 1836, he entered Yale University where he studied chemistry, mineralogy and astronomy. After graduation in 1839, he continued to study chemistry in Philadelphia, and in 1840 he joined a geologic survey of New Hampshire as an unpaid assistant to Charles T. Jackson.

In 1841, he was preparing to enter Harvard Law School, when he happened to hear a lecture on geology by Charles Lyell. He decided to change career plans and sailed to Europe in 1842 to continue his studies in science. For the next five years he traveled through Europe and studied chemistry and geology in France and Germany.

When Whitney returned home in 1847, he and John Wells Foster were hired to assist Charles T. Jackson in making a federal survey, of the Lake Superior land district of northern Michigan, which was about to become a major copper and iron mining region. When Jackson was dismissed from the survey, Foster and Whitney completed it in 1850 and the final report was published under their names. Building on this experience, Whitney became a mining consultant, and eventually wrote the book, Metallic Wealth of the United States (1854). It was considered to be the standard reference for the next 15 years.

During the 1850s, Whitney participated in geological surveys of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. He was appointed state chemist and professor in the Iowa State University in 1855, and together with James Hall, he issued reports on Iowa's geological survey (1858-1859). In 1858-1860, he took part in the survey of the lead region of the Upper Missouri River, publishing, again with Hall, a report in 1862.

California Geological Survey

In 1860, he was appointed the state geologist for California and was instructed by the legislature to undertake a comprehensive geologic survey of the state.Brewster, Edwin Tenney. (1909) Life and Letters of Josiah Dwight Whitney. To carry out the California Geological Survey, he organized an eminent, multi-disciplinary team, including William H. Brewer, James Graham Cooper, William More Gabb, Charles F. Hoffmann, and Clarence King. They began a survey that covered not only geology and geography, but also botany, zoology, and paleontology. Although significant progress was made, Whitney made a tactical error by first publishing two volumes on paleontology when the legislators were clamoring for information about gold. Whitney argued that the survey should do more than simply serve as a prospecting party. The legislature grew impatient with the scope and pace of the survey work and slowly cut the budget. Whitney tactlessly complained, telling legislators, In 1867, the survey was eliminated from the budget, and work was suspended in 1868.

Although the California Geological Survey ceased work when funds were eliminated, Whitney managed to retain the title of state geologist until 1874. The survey's field work never resumed. In fact, California was left without a geological agency until 1880, when the legislature created the State Mining Bureau, which was empowered—after the legislators' experience with Whitney—only to address mining issues, and set up with a board of trustees to keep the new agency focused on that narrow purpose. One or two bureau chiefs tried to broaden the scope to include geology, but the bureau was not allowed to hire a geologist until 1928, six decades after the old survey's demise.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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