<< 1830-1839
1850-1859 >>
Date Event Subjects
1840 George Engelmann (1809-1884) met Asa Gray (1810-1888). Thereafter, Engelmann became an important agent in St. Louis for the transmittal eastward of botanical knowledge of the west. [0207] General or Miscellaneous / Botany
1840 Augustus Addison Gould (1805-1866) published "Results of an Examination of the Species of Shells of Massachusetts and Their Geographical Distribution," Boston Journal of Natural History 3:483-494. This was a pioneering work in the United States on geographical distribution. [0208] Zoology / Conchology and Malacology
1840 (March 23) Geologist William Maclure (b.1763) died in St. Angelo, Mexico. [0209] General or Miscellaneous / Geology
1840 (April 2) The initial meeting of the Association of American Geologists took place in Philadelphia (in 1842, the phrase "and Naturalists" was added to the name of the organization). Plans for the body began as early as 1838, at a meeting of the New York Board of Geologists at the Albany home of Ebenezer Emmons (1799-1863). Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864) was presiding officer at the first meeting and Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864) was president in 1841 and 1842. It was the predecessor of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. [0210] Organizations—Societies and Associations / Geology, Natural History
1840 (May 15) The National Institution for the Promotion of Science was founded in Washington, as a successor to the Columbian Institute, with Secretary of War Joel R. Poinsett taking the lead. In 1841, it was given responsibility by the U.S. Navy for the collections of the Wilkes Expedition, but by about 1843 this was taken away. In 1842, the organization was incorporated by Congress as the National Institute. The Institute, with its political and amateur base, clashed with the emerging professional leadership in American science and with the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists. It never was strong and within a few years became inactive, although it was revived in 1855 as essentially a local organization. When its charter expired in 1862, its library and museum were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution. [0211] Organizations—Societies and Associations
[1840] After the decade of the 1830s, West Point began to recede from its previous emphasis on engineering and by 1860 it was more emphatically devoted to military concerns. [0212] Organizations—Academic / Engineering and Applied Science
1841 John White Webster (1793-1850) produced two American editions of Justus von Liebig's Organic Chemistry in Its Application to Agriculture and Physiology (Cambridge, Mass.). [0213] Chemistry
1841 John William Draper (1811-1882) developed the proposition that only rays that are absorbed can produce chemical change. It came to be known as the Grotthuss-Draper law (his name teamed with a prior but apparently unknown promulgator of the same idea in 1817). [0214] Chemistry
1841 John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852) published Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (New York), illustrated by Frederick Catherwood. The Stephens and Catherwood expedition began in 1839 to find the ruins of Copan. Their work resulted in the revelation of Copan as the remains of the Maya civilization, then not commonly known in Europe. [0215] Exploration and Surveying / Archaeology
1841 Ebenezer Emmons' (1799-1863) assertion that geological strata found in the Taconic Mountains constituted a separate geological period set off a disagreement, the Taconic Controversy, that lasted for decades thereafter. Emmons' first formal presentation of the hypothesis apparently appeared in an 1841 paper given to the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists. In 1842, the first full account of the Taconic system was given in his report on the Geology ... of the Second Geological District of New York (Albany). [0216] Geology
1841 James Pollard Espy (1785-1860) published The Philosophy of Storms (Boston). [0217] Meteorology and Climatology
1841 Augustus Addison Gould (1805-1866) published Report on the Invertebrates of Massachusetts (Cambridge, Mass.) as part of the work of the state geological and natural history survey. It was the first book in the country to attempt a study of all of the mollusks in a geographical region. [0218] Zoology / Conchology and Malacology
1841-1842 James Joseph Sylvester (1814-1897) served briefly as professor of mathematics at the University of Virginia, leaving the post in part because of anti-Semitism. [0219] Organizations—Academic / Mathematics
1841-1850 Nicholas M. Hentz (1797-1856) presented a series of papers on spiders, "Descriptions and Figures of the Araneides of the United States," to the Boston Society of Natural History, which subsequently were published in the Society's Journal. [0220] Zoology
1842 Henry Darwin Rogers (1808-1866) and William Barton Rogers (1804-1882) presented the first significant American work on geological theory, published as "On the Physical Structure of the Appalachian Chain, as Exemplifying the Laws Which Have Regulated the Elevation of Great Mountain Chains Generally," Reports of the Meetings of Association of American Geologists and Naturalists (1843): 474-531. [0221] Geology
1842 Congress appropriated funds for what became a permanent Navy Observatory, in association with the Depot of Charts and Instruments. In this same year, Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873) was put in charge of the Depot and he became head of the new observatory when the building was completed in 1844. [0222] Government—Federal / Astronomy
1842 The U.S. Congress appropriated $30,000 to test Samuel F.B. Morse's (1791-1872) telegraph by constructing a line between Baltimore and Washington. [0223] Government—Federal / Technology and Invention
1842 The American Ethnological Society was established. [0224] Organizations—Societies and Associations / Anthropology and Ethnology
1842 The Cincinnati Astronomical Society was established. In November 1843, John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) participated in the laying of the cornerstone for the Society's refracting telescope, the largest in the Americas. It resulted from the widespread solicitation and promotion by Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel (1809-1862). [0225] Organizations—Societies and Associations / Astronomy
1842 Benjamin Peirce (1809-1880) established Cambridge Miscellany of Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy. It ceased publication the next year. [0226] Periodicals and Publishing
1842 John Edwards Holbrook (1794-1871) published the second edition of North American Herpetology; or, a Description of the Reptiles Inhabiting the United States (Philadelphia), in five volumes. The first edition, published 1836-1840, was replaced by the new one. [0227] Zoology
1842 (March 30) Crawford Williamson Long (1815-1878) made the first surgical use of ether, but he did not reveal the fact in publication until 1849. [0228] Medicine / Surgery
1842 (May) Colonel John Fremont (1813-1890) began an expedition to explore the Rocky Mountains in southern Wyoming. Subsequent explorations followed and in 1845 he published The Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842 and to Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-44 (Washington). The report had the effect of contributing to awareness and interest in the West. [0229] Government—Federal / Exploration and Surveying
1842-1849 Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) published The North American Sylva (Philadelphia), in three volumes. It was initiated as an appendix to Francois Andre Michaux's (1770-1855) North America Sylva and also published separately. [0230] Botany
1843 John Torrey (1796-1873) published Flora of the State of New York (Albany) in two volumes, part of the survey of the state. [0231] Botany
1843 Alexander Dallas Bache (1806-1867) became superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey. Bache remained head of the Survey until his death. During his tenure, more physical scientists found employment with the Survey than in any other place. [0232] Government—Federal / Geophysics and Geodesy
1843 Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) addressed the problem of puerperal (childbed) fever by advising a routine of personal cleanliness among physicians. His views were presented in his "The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever," New England Quarterly Journal of Medicine and Surgery 1:503-530. [0233] Medicine
1843 Elias Loomis (1811-1889) presented to the American Philosophical Society a paper that introduced to meteorology the idea of graphic illustration, that showed deviation from the normal barometer. The paper was published as "On Two Storms Which Were Experienced Throughout the United States in the Month of February, 1842," Transactions of American Philosophical Society 9 (1846): 161-184. [0234] Meteorology and Climatology
1843-1857 James Pollard Espy (1785-1860) published reports on meteorology in the capacity of a paid meteorologist of the federal government (1843, 1850, 1851, 1857). The first report was to the army surgeon general, the next two to the secretary of the navy, and the last directly to Congress. [0235] Government—Federal / Meteorology and Climatology
1844 Eben Norton Horsford (1818-1893) began two years of study with the German chemist, Justus von Liebig. As the second American to study with Liebig, he played an important role in the transfer of German chemistry to the United States, beginning with letters published in the Albany Cultivator that brought Liebig's work to the attention of farmers. During a period of study from 1840-1844, John Lawrence Smith (1818-1883) had spent some time with Liebig, the first American to do so. [0236] Chemistry
1844 Connecticut dentist Horace Wells (1815-1848) undertook to use nitrous oxide as an anaesthetic in the extraction of teeth. A subsequent demonstration at the Harvard Medical School failed, and in the wake of the controversy over priority in the discovery of anaesthesia, Wells committed suicide. [0237] Medicine
1844 Samuel Tyler (1809-1877), a lawyer, published Discourse of the Baconian Philosophy (Frederick City, Md). In this work, the widely professed Philosophy of American science in the early nineteenth century was discussed and defended by its chief American promoter. As late as 1877, Tyler undertook a new edition at the request of Joseph Henry (1797-1878). In the work, Tyler equated scientific methodology with classification, a view widely shared. [0238] Philosophy
1844 John William Draper (1811-1882) produced what apparently was the first photograph (daguerreotype) of a diffraction spectrum. The diffraction grating had been engraved by Joseph Saxton (1799-1873). [0239] Physics / Instruments and Instrumentation
1844 Josiah Nott (1804-1873) of Alabama most likely was the first American to argue for the separate creations of the races of humans. [0240] Zoology—Human
1844 (April) The National Institute for the Promotion of Science, directed by Joel Poinsett, Francis Markoe, Jr., and others, called the first national scientific conference in the country. Several hundred persons with scientific interest attended. One effect of the congress, however, was to alert the rising professional scientific community to the need to differentiate its interests from the larger supportive population. [0241] General or Miscellaneous
1844 (May 24) The well-known message, "What hath God wrought?" was telegraphed by Samuel F.B. Morse (1791-1872) from Washington to Baltimore. [0242] Technology and Invention / Electricity and Electronics
1845 Alphonso Wood (1810-1881) published A Class-Book of Botany (Boston, Mass.) in response to the Botanical Textbook of Asa Gray (1810-1888), which had failed to provide users with a field guide. Wood's work relied on a natural classification rather than the older Linnaean scheme. [0243] Botany
mid-1840s By this period, Boston was beginning to replace Philadelphia as the leading center for American scientists. [0244] General or Miscellaneous
1845 The Naval School was established. In 1850-51, it was reorganized as the U.S. Naval Academy. [0245] Organizations—Academic
1845 The National Association of Inventors was established but endured only a couple of years. [0246] Organizations—Societies and Associations / Technology and Invention
1845 Scientific American, a technology publication of popular interest, was founded in New York by Rufus Porter (1792-1884). In 1846, it was taken over by Orson Munn (1824-1907) and Alfred Beach (1826-1896). [0247] Periodicals and Publishing
1846 Charles Thomas Jackson (1805-1880) claimed priority over C.F. Schonbein for the discovery of guncotton. [0248] Chemistry
1846 The Smithsonian Institution was founded at Washington, D.C., by a Congressional act, on 10 August. Joseph Henry (1797-1878) was chosen as the first secretary (director) on 3 December. [0249] Organizations—Research Institutions
1846 The lock-stitch sewing machine was patented by Elias Howe (1819-1867). [0250] Technology and Invention
1846 Joseph Leidy (1823-1891) identified parasitic Trichina spiralis in hogs. [0251] Zoology / Microbiology and Microscopy
1846 (June) The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia received a bird collection of 10,000 European specimens from Thomas B. Wilson (1807-1865), leading to the claim that it was the best ornithological collection in the world. [0252] Zoology / Ornithology
1846 (July) Ormsby M. Mitchel (1809-1862) began publication of the monthly Sidereal Messenger. It was the first serial in the United States devoted specifically to astronomy. It ceased publication in October 1848. [0253] Periodicals and Publishing / Astronomy
1846 (August 19) The Corporation of Yale University enacted a plan to establish professorships in agricultural and applied chemistry. The so-called Yale School of Applied Chemistry opened on 1 November 1847 and in 1861 became the Sheffield Scientific School. The promoters of the scheme were Benjamin Silliman, Sr. (1779-1864), Benjamin Silliman, Jr. (1816-1885), and John Pitkin Norton (1822-1852). When established, it was the first scientific school affiliated with a college or university. [0254] Organizations—Academic
1846 (October 3) Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) came to the United States to lecture at the Lowell Institute, Boston. In 1847, he became professor in the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard University and continued in that position until his death. [0255] General or Miscellaneous / Natural History
1846 (October 16) William Thomas Green Morton (1819-1868) at the Massachusetts General Hospital demonstrated the general anaesthetic use of sulphuric ether; John Collins Warren (1778-1856) performed the surgical operation. Morton's former teacher, Charles Thomas Jackson (1805-1880), subsequently claimed priority for the discovery. (Morton was granted a patent, on which Jackson's name also was included, on November 12, 1846.) [0256] Medicine
1847 Benjamin Peirce (1809-1880) published a list of all the known orbits of comets in American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge. [0257] Astronomy
1847 Benjamin Silliman, Jr. (1816-1885) published First Principles of Chemistry (Philadelphia / Boston). T. Sterry Hunt (1826-1892) did the section on organic chemistry. [0258] Chemistry
1847 Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), at the U.S. Navy Depot of Charts and Instruments, began publication of Wind and Current Charts, with the issuance of those for the North Atlantic. The intent of the project was to promote maritime commerce and Maury distributed the charts free in exchange for ships' logs of winds and currents. [0259] Government—Federal / Oceanography
1847 The Lawrence Scientific School was established at Harvard University. [0260] Organizations—Academic
1847 The 15-inch refractor installed at the Harvard College Observatory was then (with one other) the largest in the world. [0261] Organizations—Observatories / Instruments and Instrumentation
1847 The Association of American Geologists and Naturalists, meeting in Boston, determined to transform itself into an American Association for the Advancement of Science, the first general scientific society to be truly national in scope. The first meeting of the new society was held in Philadelphia in September 1848, where a constitution was adopted and William C. Redfield (1789-1857) was elected as president. There were 461 members during the formative year. Two divisions were established: (1) general physics, mathematics, chemistry, civil engineering, applied sciences; and (2) natural history, geology, physiology, medicine. The Association began publication of Proceedings from the outset. [0262] Organizations—Societies and Associations
1847 The American Medical Association was established. [0263] Organizations—Societies and Associations / Medicine
1847 Joseph Leidy (1823-1891) described the fossil of the horse in North America. [0264] Paleontology / Zoology
1847 Jeffries Wyman (1814-1874) and Thomas S. Savage (1804-1880) published "Notice of the External Characters and Habits of Troglodytes gorilla, a New Species of Ourang From the Gaboon River. Osteology of the Same," Boston Journal of Natural History 5:417-442. This was the first detailed description of the gorilla. [0265] Zoology
1847 (October 1) Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) discovered a new telescopic comet. For this achievement, she was given a gold medal by the king of Denmark. [0266] Astronomy
1847-1851 George Phillips Bond (1825-1865) carried out pioneering daguerreotype work with stars, at the Harvard College Observatory. Working with his father, William Cranch Bond (1789-1859), a result was the earliest stellar photograph (1850). [0267] Astronomy / Photography
1847-1894 James Hall, Jr. (1811-1898) published New York State Natural History Survey: Paleontology (Albany), 8 volumes in 13. [0268] Paleontology
1848 Hyperion, the eighth moon of Saturn, was discovered by George Phillips Bond (1825-1865). [0269] Astronomy
1848 Asa Gray (1810-1888) published his Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States (Boston). It included all known plants of the region, William S. Sullivant (1803-1873) contributing the sections on mosses and liverworts. There were five editions of the work during Gray's lifetime. [0270] Botany
1848 Astronomer Benjamin Apthorp Gould (1824-1896) received a doctorate at the University of Gottingen, having studied under C.F. Gauss. [0271] General or Miscellaneous / Astronomy
1848 Frederick Augustus Genth (1820-1893) came to the United States from Germany, having earned a doctorate at the University of Marburg in 1845. He was at the time unusually well prepared among analytical chemists in the United States. [0272] General or Miscellaneous / Chemistry
1848 John Locke (1792-1856) invented the electro-chronograph or magnetic clock. In use by the U.S. Coast Survey, it contributed to the accuracy of longitude determinations. [0273] Geophysics and Geodesy / Instruments and Instrumentation
1848 Joseph Leidy (1823-1891) began studies on the micro-forms of life in animals. In 1853, he published "A Flora and Fauna Within Living Animals," Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, 5. [0274] Microbiology and Microscopy / Zoology
1848 The first woman, Maria Mitchell (1818-1889), was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. [0275] Organizations—Societies and Associations
1848 The Boston Society of Civil Engineers was established, the earliest such organization in the country. [0276] Organizations—Societies and Associations / Engineering and Applied Science
1848 Ephraim G. Squier (1821-1888) and Edwin H. Davis (1811-1888) published Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. It was the first of the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge and a start for the program of the Institution's Secretary Joseph Henry (1797-1878) to promote research. The Contributions series continued until 1916. [0277] Periodicals and Publishing / Archaeology
1848 Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) and Augustus Addison Gould (1805-1866) published Principles of Zoology (Boston). Most of the illustrations were done by Louis Francois de Pourtales (1823/24-1880). A German edition appeared in 1851. [0278] Zoology
1848 and 1854 The collections of the natural history museum established by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) in Philadelphia in 1786 were sold. [0279] Organizations—Museums / Natural History
1849 A paper by Daniel Kirkwood (1814-1895) in the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science generated interest in the topic of planetary rotation. [0280] Astronomy
1849 Arnold Henri Guyot (1807-1884) published Earth and Man, or Lectures on Comparative Physical Geography in Its Relation to the History of Mankind (Boston), based on his Lowell Institute lectures. [0281] Geography and Cartography
1849 The U.S. Department of the Interior was established by Congress. The function of the department was originally a general oversight of various governmental activities and facilities (e.g., federal lands, Indian affairs, patents, public buildings, pensions, the census). With the development of the governmental structure, Interior came to concentrate on federal natural resources. [0282] Government—Federal
1849 The Nautical Almanac was established by the U.S. Navy; it was nominally connected with the Naval Observatory but situated in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Naval officer Charles Henry Davis (1807-1877) was made the first head of the Almanac office. The first volume of The American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac was issued in 1852. [0283] Government—Federal / Astronomy
1849 The U.S. Congress granted to Charles G. Page (1812-1868) $20,000 for development of a wet-cell-battery-powered locomotive, although the action did not set a precedent. Page eventually devised a prototype but it was very expensive and not dependable. [0284] Government—Federal / Technology and Invention
1849 An international exchange of scientific periodicals was organized by the Smithsonian Institution. [0285] Information Access
1849 The Smithsonian Institution, under Joseph Henry (1797-1878), began the establishment of a national organization for daily collection of meteorological data. The program included a system of telegraph stations. [0286] Meteorology and Climatology
1849 The Astronomical Journal was established by Benjamin A. Gould (1824-1896). It was intended to serve the needs and interests of astronomers and to further research rather than educational interests. Publication was suspended from 1861 to 1886. [0287] Periodicals and Publishing / Astronomy
1849-1852 An astronomical observatory was established and operated in Santiago, Chile, by Navy Lieutenant James M. Gilliss (1811-1865). The motivating purpose for the observatory was to compile simultaneous observational data on Venus and Mars in the northern and southern hemispheres, the northern aspect to be carried out at the Naval Observatory. The end purpose was to determine the distance of the earth from the sun. Unfortunately, Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), head of the Naval Observatory, failed to make the corresponding observations. When the government of Chile took over the southern observatory from Gilliss, it became the earliest such facility in that continent. [0288] Astronomy
 Previous Return to Chronology main page



Created and Maintained by Dr. Clark A. Elliott Waltham, MA
clark_elliott at verizon dot net / Content updated 16 June 2008
Technical presentation by Andrew J. Elliott.