Scattered through the writings of the early explorers in Minnesota
are notes on various aspects of the geology of Minnesota. Among the
earliest and perhaps most notable was Father Hennepin's account of the
discovery and naming of Saint Anthony Falls of the Mississippi River.
It should be noted that his description was so accurate that later N. H.
Winchell was able to use the location in his remarkable contribution on
the time required for the migration of the Falls since the retreat of glacial
ice from Minnesota.
The most important of the early geological surveys which included
Minnesota was that by David Dale Owen who worked under instructions
from the United States Treasury Department. Owen was assisted by J. G.
Norwood, Charles Whittlesey, B. F. Shumard, and Joseph Leidy. The
report of this survey, published in 1852, consists of 638 pages and 92
plates and maps and is entitled "Report of a Geological Survey of Wisconsin,
Iowa, and Minnesota." This comprehensive report furnished the
principal foundation for later work by the Minnesota Geological and
Natural History Survey.
An effort was made by the first legislature of the state in 1858 to
establish a geological survey. The attempt was repeated by the second
legislature, but a lack of income and opposition by the Governor caused
the effort to be dropped. In 1864 a joint resolution by the legislature authorized
the Governor to appoint a State Geologist. A. H. Hanchett was
appointed, and he was assisted by Thomas Clark. Both submitted reports,
but evidently Hanchett's performance was not satisfactory, and Henry
H. Eames was appointed State Geologist by the Governor. Eames made
brief reports for 1865 and 1866, but the legislature refused further appropriations.
Other sporadic efforts were made until 1870 when the governor
appointed Professor Alexander Winchell of the University of Michigan
to examine and report on the reputed Salt Spring lands at Belle Plaine
in the Minnesota River valley.
The law which established the survey on a permanent basis was
drawn up by President W. W. Folwell of the University of Minnesota.
There is little doubt that President Folwell's prestige was of prime importance
in securing passage of the bill, which entrusted the task of organizing the survey to the University. The law was passed by both houses
and approved by Governor Horace Austin on March 1, 1872. The complete
act was published in the first annual report and again in Bulletin 1.
The essential features may be summarized as follows. The title was "The
Geological and Natural History Survey of Minnesota." The Survey was
entrusted to the University of Minnesota, where it still remains. The
Geological Survey was to include all aspects of the geology of the State
with emphasis on all economic materials. Other sections provided for
botanical, zoological, and meteorological studies and the establishment
of a museum.