Collection Scope and Content Summary
Title: State Geological Survey records,
Date (inclusive): 1860-1874
State Geological Survey
2 file folders
California State Archives
Abstract: The California State Geological Survey was created by statute in 1860. The records include the correspondence of the State
Geologist, Josiah D. Whitney, with the Governor and State Legislature. Included are four file folders of correspondence, reports,
and statements of expenditures
Collection is open for research.
For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the California State Archives. Permission for reproduction or publication
is given on behalf of the California State Archives as the owner of the physical items. The researcher assumes all responsibility
for possible infringement which may arise from reproduction or publication of materials from the California State Archives
State Geological Survey Records, F3747, California State Archives.
Part of California State Archives collection as of July 2001.
The California State Geological Survey was created by statute in 1860. The act, entitled
An Act to create the Office of the State Geologist and define the Duties thereof, appointed Josiah D. Whitney as the State Geologist. (Chapter 254, Stats. 1860) He and his assistants were to make a complete
geological survey of the State and from this work publish reports, maps, and diagrams. The State could then sell the volumes
through the Secretary of State. The act also gave the survey an initial $20,000 appropriation for expenses.
Josiah Dwight Whitney was among the most noted of mining scientists in the United State in 1860. He had published a book on
mining in 1854 that became a standard treatise on the subject. From this work he was appointed State Chemist of Iowa. In 1860
he was selected to be State Geologist of California largely through the support of Justice Stephen Field, entrepreneur S.O.
Putnam, and noted scientists Louis Agissiz and the father and son Benjamin Sillimans. His selection and tenure was often controversial.
He frequently clashed with the legislature and governor over the amount of appropriations for and direction of the work of
the survey. He would remain the head of the survey until it was terminated in 1874. At this time he headed east and eventually
became head of the School of Mines at Harvard University.
The work of the survey that Whitney envisioned differed from the vision that the Legislature had. The Legislature expected
that the survey would provide the State with accurate information on the location of gold deposits throughout California.
Whitney believed the survey should be more focused on pure science. He believed that only through the unrestricted study of
the state could they discover the secrets of the state.
The survey, often known as the Whitney Survey, attracted many of the best young scientists in the nation. Whitney selected
William Brewer as the leader of the field parties. Brewer had trained in Europe and would go onto to become a professor at
Yale University. William Ashburner was the mining expert for the survey and was one of the original Commissioners of Yosemite
Valley and Mariposa Grove. Charles Hoffmann was a German engineer who did much of the survey map work and would become one
of the leaders in American topography. Clarence King joined the survey in 1863 and by 1878 was in charge of the U.S. Geological
Nearly all of the fieldwork of the survey was done from 1860 to 1867. After 1867 and through its conclusion in 1874, most
of the work was the creation of reports and maps on specific topics and regions of the State. Among its accomplishments was
the first large-scale attempt to systematically map the state, a guidebook to Yosemite Valley, first exploration of the southern
Sierra, and a report on the geology of the state.
The State Geological Survey came to an end in 1874 when Governor Newton Booth abolished the office of State Geologist. Much
of their uncompleted work was then transferred to the University of California.
Collection Scope and Content Summary
Records of the California State Geological Survey generally reflect the relationship between the head of the survey, Josiah
Dwight Whitney, with the Governor and State Legislature. Included are four file folders of correspondence, reports, and statements
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the Archives online finding aids.