Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/May 1893/Tribute of the French Academy to American Geographical Exploration


THE following tribute to the Americans who have conducted meritorious geological and geographical explorations is a graceful and well-bestowed recognition from the French people of the remarkable results that have been achieved in this country by individual and Government agencies in adding to the sum of human knowledge. The tribute of words is even more beautiful than the elegant medal which accompanied it, and while the United States Geological Survey is made the official recipient of the gift, it will be seen that it is intended to honor other American workers in this field of science.

Institute of France, Academy of Science. Meeting of December 21, 1891. Pages 70 to 74.


Commissioners: MM. Gaudry, Fouqué, de Quatrefages, Milne-Edwards.
M. Daubrée, Rapporteur.

The commission charged with awarding the Cuvier prize for the year 1891 has with unanimous voice given this high mark of esteem to the collective work of the Geological Survey of the United States.

In the United States, where all the natural resources are exploited with so much ardor, the studies relative to the soil ought necessarily to demand a very particular attention by reason of the numerous applications which they legitimately promise. It is therefore more than half a century since the governments of many States instituted a geological exploration of the lands which belonged to them. These geological surveys were organized and confided to men most prominent in their profession. It was in the Northern States that the most considerable progress was made. Hitchcock published, in 1833, the Geology of Massachusetts. From 1836 to 1840 the eminent Henry Rogers and his brother, W. B. Rogers, undertook that of Pennsylvania and Virginia, the essential characteristics and distorted structure of which they so admirably made known. Charles T. Jackson, of Boston, the discoverer of etherization, and already known by his mineralogical works, undertook that of Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island (1837 to 1839), after having published in 1833 a study of Nova Scotia. The geology of the State of New York is confided to James Hall—who has not yet discontinued the series of his discoveries—Mather, Emmons, and Vanuxem. It has given existence to publications that have become classic (1836 to 1842). By the side of these promoters who have the merit of having been the first to conquer the greatest difficulties, justice demands that there should be written the names of two geologists not attached officially to the service of the United States, whose powerful influence ought to be proclaimed. Our compatriot De Verneuil pursued since 1846, with the success that is well known, a task which no other could better undertake, that of comparing upon the two continents all the sedimentary deposits, from the most ancient down to those that contain the coal; and Dana, by his original work and by his excellent books, has contributed singularly to the education of all those who, in Europe as well as in America, devoted themselves and still devote themselves to the study of geology and mineralogy.

The first results attained proved the utility of like enterprises. Thus, following the steps of the local governments, the Federal Government entered into the same path.

It was at first for the great Territories of the West, little known and not yet classed as independent States. The wise geologist Hayden, to whom this study was confided and of whom we deplore the loss, worked there with ardor during a dozen years. First of all had to be adopted a rational plan for an exploration at the same time geographic and geologic. This new service bore, indeed, the title of Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. Then followed the discovery in 1871, and the detailed exploration in 1872, of the region of the geysers of the Yellowstone; from 1873 to 1879 the complete topographic and geologic survey of the Alpine part of the Rocky Mountains comprised in the State of Colorado. The atlas which unites all these researches (1877) is a chef-d'œuvre of cartography; it is in great part the work of Mr. Holmes, the artist-geologist, of whom one admires the incomparable sketches scattered in profusion through the official publications.

In order to explore the Rocky Mountains (1869 to 1875), Mr. J. W. Powell descended by water the celebrated and dangerous canons of the Colorado, and made a report which has become classic on the phenomena of erosion. During the same epoch Mr. Gilbert made an extremely remarkable study of the Henry Mountains.

At the same time the Engineer Department of the United States Army was charged with work of the same class over an immense country still little more than desert and very little known. The title of this new service, "Geological and geographical exploration and survey of the one hundredth meridian," shows that, in this case also, the examination of the constitution of the soil marched side by side with the study of its topography and relief. This important mission was placed, in 1872, under the direction of Lieutenant Wheeler, who in the preceding year had explored a portion of Nevada and Arizona. The choice could not have been better, as is proved by the career since then of the distinguished engineer. His purpose was to reconnoitre the natural resources of the mountainous country in the neighborhood of the chosen parallel, and also of the great railroad lines of the Union and Central Pacific between the one hundred and fourth and one hundred and twentieth degrees of longitude west from Greenwich. After having examined the Sierra Nevada and the Coast Ranges, Prof. Whitney, Director of the Geological Survey of California, pushed his investigations toward the Pacific slope. But, between California on the west and the base of the Rocky Mountains on the east, exploited by Hayden, there remained a vast gap of sixteen degrees of longitude which was little known. Under the direction of Mr. Clarence King this gap was very well filled. A general knowledge was acquired of the great mountain system of North America and that in its greatest expansion. We possess now results sufficient to make clear the important problem of the dynamics of mountain chains.

Since 1879 all the geological studies executed at the expense of the central Government have been confided to a single administration bearing the title of the Geological Survey.

Organized by Clarence King, it passed in the following year under the direction of J. W. Powell, in whose able hands it has since remained. Its end, as is defined by the organic law, is the reconnoissance of the geological structure of the country, of its mineral resources, and finally the execution of a geologic map.

The researches carried forward in very different directions of science have been apportioned to many divisions: Geography, geology, paleontology, and others. Geologists, to the number of about twenty, are each one charged with special functions, and their results are gathered each year into a report of the director under the name of Annual Report. It is a large volume published in magnificent shape, in which are likewise collected memoirs upon divers subjects, with an accompaniment of numerous maps, engravings, and photolithographs. Already ten annual reports have appeared.

Besides these reports the survey has published from time to time monographs upon subjects particularly interesting, likewise under the form of very beautiful volumes, accompanied with many figures, and occasionally by a voluminous atlas.

Also under the title of bulletins, of which already have appeared sixty papers relating to subjects new and interesting. And, finally, a statistical publication bearing the name of Mineral Resources of the United States appears annually and makes known not only the figures of production but also the numerous theoretical considerations which interest the miner.

As to the geographic work which the Geological Survey also possesses among its attributes, a numerous personnel of topographers and engineers work actively at the execution of the map in the most diverse parts of the country under the direction of Mr. H. Gannett. Already more than six hundred sheets have been surveyed and drawn, and about four hundred have appeared.

Besides geology and geography ought to be mentioned a considerable work, of which Mr. Powell is the founder, in the domain of the pre-Columbian archæology, the linguistics, the ethnology, and the anthropology of the Indians of North America, splendidly illustrated by Mr. Holmes. The last publication of Mr. Powell upon the classification of American languages is, according to the best judges, of great importance.

Not being able to give here a complete list of all the actual collaborators of the survey, or of their services, we must content ourselves with noticing those who have taken the principal part in the execution of the works already published. These are in alphabetical order: Messrs. Becker, Chamberlin, Cross, Davis, Day, Diller, S. F. Emmons, Fontaine, Gannett, Gilbert, Hague, Hayes, Holmes, Iddings, McGee, Marsh, Newberry, Peale, Russell, Shaler, Van Hise, Walcott, Ward, Upham, Weed, C. A. White, Whitfield, A. Williams, G. H. Williams, and H. S. Williams. It is but just that we should not omit the names of those who are dead: Messrs. Hayden, Irving, Lesquereux, Leidy, Marvine, and Newton; or of those who no longer belong to the survey: Messrs. Bradley, Cope, Curtis, Dutton, Endlich, Hill, Howell, Clarence King, St. John, Stevenson, and Wheeler. Many of these names will remain justly illustrious.

It will be impossible to give in this report even a summary idea of the most remarkable discoveries which are due to the Geological Survey. They belong to branches very diverse: regional geology, monographs concerning metalliferous deposits, general and comparative stratigraphy, mineralogy and petrography, volcanic phenomena, glacial phenomena, ancient Quaternary lakes, and a history of the Atlantic littoral.

Among the most considerable results must be mentioned the paleontological discoveries made in the Rocky Mountains. Since the day in which Hayden undertook his memorable explorations, we have learned that the site of the Rocky Mountains was continuously a part of the continent during the greater portion of the Secondary, Tertiary, and Quaternary epochs. Upon this vast continent the quadrupeds could develop during extended time, freely, without any interruption to their evolution, and thus they became numerous, gigantic, and sometimes strange. The paleontologists attached to the Geological Survey have brought to light these curious creatures. The monographs of the regretted Leidy, of Cope, and of Prof. Marsh are among the most beautiful paleontologic works accomplished since Cuvier.

Magnificent researches have also been made concerning the invertebrates and the fossil vegetables.

To resume, under the powerful impulse which the Federal Government has given to it, the geologic service of the United States has produced in twenty-five years results very considerable and very skillfully attained. It must be said that in no other region of the globe have been made such discoveries in so short a space of time. Moreover, this organization, all perfect as it is, could not have given such fruits if the galaxy of savants who have taken part in it had not given proof, at all times, of a valor and of a tenacity which, in the diverse and inhospitable regions in which they were exercised, recall the heroism of an army attacking the most arduous and most inaccessible obstacles.

The work of the Geological Survey, with the magnificent collection of results that it comprises, merits then that we should render to it a striking homage for the light so vivid and so unexpected that it has thrown upon the geologic history and the mineral riches of North America.

The Cuvier prize is decreed to this grand collective work, not only to the actual collaborators, but also to those who have ceased their labors. It will, we hope, be preserved in the archives of the Geological Survey as a witness of the high esteem of the Academy of Sciences.

His studies of the planet Jupiter for the past thirteen or fourteen years have satisfied M. Terby that the conditions existing there are more stable than astronomers have of late years been supposing. Even if the phenomena of the spots and bands are atmospheric, their permanency and regularity point to some fixed cause, on the real surface of the planet, controlling them. Besides the "red spot," which has now attracted attention for many years, he finds permanent spots, even on the equatorial zone, having a movement of rotation corresponding with that of this object. The supposition may be legitimately drawn from this fact that this period of rotation agrees with that of the rotation of the planet itself. At present, the Hon. Rollo Russell contends, in his book on the Causes and Prevention of Epidemic Plagues and Fevers, the science of "public life-saving" is far ahead of the practice. We teach, he observes, in compulsorily attended schools the names of "ancient and unworthy kings," of lakes, mountains, rivers, and so on; while we neglect to instruct in the weightier matters that concern life, health, prosperity, and happiness. The remedy lies in placing the knowledge of the first principles of hygiene within the acquisition of every person of the community.
  1. Translated by Robert T. Hill, of the United States Geological Survey.