Government in Science

Government in Science: The U.S. Geological Survey, 1867--1894

Thomas G. Manning
Copyright Date: 1967
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j95h
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  • Book Info
    Government in Science
    Book Description:

    From its very inception in 1879 until the twentieth century, the U.S. Geological Survey was embroiled in congressional politics. These early years, Thomas G. Manning shows, heralded the complex relations of contemporary science and government.

    Born out of rivalry between several scientific parties, the Geological Survey was founded primarily for the advancement of mining west of the Mississippi. Its scope was soon broadened, however, and the Survey became national in character. The concept of government science was challenged by the conservative Cleveland Democrats, but its proponents succeeded in establishing the Survey as a permanent bureau in 1886.

    Manning traces in detail the careers of the Survey's first two directors, Clarence King and John Wesley Powell, and adds new dimensions and interpretations to their public lives. King sought to make the Survey a center for geological theory as well as practical studies. By exceeding the narrow limits of the original appropriations bill, King became vulnerable to the attacks of economy-minded congressmen and was dismissed. Powell proved a more apt political manipulator and his plans for a nationwide topographical map were salable to the public, but his unpopular western land policies almost cost him his position. Near the end of the nineteenth century, under Powell's successor, C. D. Walcott, the Survey was finally able to divorce itself from active politics and its policies were developed in a more fruitful setting.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6358-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Geology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    The history of the United States Geological Survey concerns knowledge and research, how they developed, and how they were involved in legislation and politics during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The origins of the Survey date from the period after 1865 when the federal government became more important than the states in sponsoring the study of geology, paleontology, and topography. Scientific surveys operating in the trans-Mississippi West did the research, and they introduced almost every program which later was prominent in the Geological Survey proper.

    The pattern of the research and the returns from it are primary themes...

  5. Chapter One FEDERAL SCIENCE IN THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI WEST AFTER 1865
    (pp. 1-29)

    The exploration and development of the American Far West, which proceeded rapidly following the end of the Civil War, encouraged the growth of geology and led to the founding of the United States Geological Survey. Geology as modern, organized knowledge originated during the nineteenth century, when many principles and techniques of the discipline were firmly established. At the very beginning of the century Abraham Gottlob Werner of Saxony demonstrated that rocky materials on the earth’s surface often followed a regular order and could be systematically described. In France, Georges Cuvier, by bringing certainty and accuracy to the study of fossils,...

  6. Chapter Two THE FOUNDING OF THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY IN 1879
    (pp. 30-59)

    The movement for a united geological survey was the reaction to an intersurvey rivalry which brought disorder to government science, reduced public confidence in it, and even threatened its extinction. Hayden and Powell clashed with the Corps of Engineers, who, after King had left the field, established their own survey under the command of Lieutenant George M. Wheeler. The engineers wished to regain the prominence in science in the western territories which they once enjoyed. Powell would maintain the independence which he and the other geologists recently had acquired. Hayden, more than any other military or civilian person, wanted to...

  7. Chapter Three A BUREAU OF MINES AND MINING
    (pp. 60-73)

    The Geological Survey was created primarily to achieve an immediate economic objective. Director King was enforcing the central purpose of the founding when he ordered several of his staff into the mining centers of western America. The “incomparable” Comstock Lode and the “wonderful” silver deposits at Leadville, Colorado, and Eureka, Nevada, were his initial locations.¹ The gold fields of California also had a high priority. King imagined his scientists moving on from these places to other major districts, increasing the literature of mining geology. And after a decade, someone, perhaps King himself, could formulate a general theory as to the...

  8. Chapter Four RESEARCH IN GEOLOGY AND PALEONTOLOGY
    (pp. 74-92)

    In the sciences of geology and paleontology the national Survey accumulated knowledge on an impressive scale and encouraged a fruitful interplay between this knowledge and scientific theory. Powell hired experienced and even famous researchers, made them heads of divisions, and gave them substantial freedom in their intellectual quests. Of course one of these divisions was in physical geology so that American momentum in this field could be maintained. A unit in glacial geology was staffed by scientists from Wisconsin, who had wanted a national survey so that they could study the effects of glaciation on a broad geographical front. A...

  9. Chapter Five ADVANCEMENT IN TOPOGRAPHY: THE NATIONAL MAP
    (pp. 93-104)

    The project of a national topographic map was the most surprising consequence of Survey expansion in 1882, becoming dominant in the bureau’s activity for a decade. An objective of both the War and Interior Departments during the 1870’s had been an atlas for the western possessions of the United States. When the Survey began in 1879, however, topography declined as a government science, as Congress refused to make it a major component of a federal bureau. Director King accepted this decision, and in all the discussion about a national survey between 1879 and 1882 topographical science was virtually ignored. The...

  10. Chapter Six THE NEW POSITION OF PRACTICAL SCIENCE
    (pp. 105-121)

    An important change in the practical science of the Survey was made after 1882. Clarence King, the first director, had organized his bureau around western mining studies, but after his resignation and the return to multiple science under Powell these practical studies lost their preeminence. Marking most decisively the trend away from King’s policy was the dismantling of the regional framework for field operations. In reaction the western mining geologists formed an opposition group to Powell and his policies, and factionalism became a salient feature of the Survey. There was no decline, however, in the quality of findings from practical...

  11. Chapter Seven CONGRESS GRANTS PERMANENCE, 1886
    (pp. 122-150)

    The supreme crisis for the Powell regime came in the mid-eighties with an investigation of the Survey by Congress, which ended after 18 months with recognition of the Survey as a permanent institution of the federal government. The phenomenal growth of the bureau prompted congressional attention. The scientific staff had increased from 40 to 200, and annual expenditures stood at $500,000, King’s ideal goal in 1879. Once aroused, Congress’ curiosity was stimulated further by the discovery that an important part of government science had been transformed without explicit authorization. The legislature had approved first a territorial mining bureau and then...

  12. Chapter Eight YELLOWSTONE PARK: THE GEOLOGICAL SURVEY AND CONSERVATION
    (pp. 151-167)

    In Yellowstone Park the orientation of the Survey was quite different. Heretofore it had served mineral interests, providing scientific and technical help for the intensive exploitation of natural resources. Its political allies were mining superintendents, engineers, and manufacturers. In the park the Survey stood for the conservation of natural resources, the defense of a recreational area having natural beauty and wonder. It appealed to esthetes, big-game hunters, and urban dwellers tired of the city. The occasion for this change was the coming of the Northern Pacific Railroad to the edge of the park in 1883—and the threat of this...

  13. Chapter Nine THE IRRIGATION SURVEY: SCIENCE AND REFORM
    (pp. 168-203)

    In 1888 when western sentiment was ready Powell directed the Geological Survey into the study of irrigation. He still sought to combine science and reform. If the research of the Survey previously had served private individuals or corporations, now Powell wanted it to help people form communities to own and control all the lands of the arid region. This time he did not have to consult with other scientists, and even Congress was not disposed to challenge him, as the legislators were interested primarily in the implications of his plan for the public land system. The history of the Geological...

  14. Chapter Ten INTERVAL OF DECLINE, 1892-1894
    (pp. 204-216)

    After the irrigation debacle the spirit and tempo of the Survey were transformed. Almost every year for a quarter of a century federal geologists and allied scientists had been introducing new and important research, either from scientific curiosity or because some public question arose which demanded authoritative knowledge. This expansive movement now faltered, as retaliatory action by western senators forced the bureau into a period of decline. In 1892, an election year, these hostile senators made an alliance against public science with those Cleveland Democrats who wanted a record of economy in Congress to demonstrate their fitness to govern. Republicans...

  15. Chapter Eleven EPILOGUE: THE SURVEY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
    (pp. 217-227)

    There are good reasons for not continuing intensively with the story of the Survey into the twentieth century. The tensions of the nineteenth-century Survey, which make it so attractive for study, drop sharply as the modern period begins. The bureau and its purposes cease to dominate the relations of science and government on the national scene; the massive confrontations with Congress do not recur; the crisis atmosphere, chronic with geological surveys since the Civil War, vanishes. Another factor which almost precludes original research is the dwindling of the Survey records just before the turn of the century. Between 1900 and...

  16. NOTE ON SOURCES
    (pp. 228-238)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 239-257)