William Maclure

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William Maclure
William Maclure
Born27 October 1763
Ayr, Scotland
Died23 March 1840(1840-03-23) (aged 76)
San Ángel, Mexico
NationalityBorn in Scotland
Known forFirst geological map of America 1809, and New Harmony Society
Scientific career
Fieldsgeology, education, philanthropy
InstitutionsAcademy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia

William Maclure (27 October 1763 – 23 March 1840) was an Americanized Scottish geologist, cartographer and philanthropist.[1][2] He is known as the 'father of American geology'.[3][4] As a social experimenter on new types of community life, he collaborated with British social reformer Robert Owen, (1771–1854), in Indiana, United States.

Maclure had a highly successful mercantile career, making a fortune that allowed him to retire in 1797 at the early age of 34 to pursue his scientific, geological and other interests. In 1809 he made the earliest attempt at a geological map of the United States of America.[5]


Early life, business, and education[edit]

Maclure was born in 1763 in Ayr, Scotland.

After a brief visit to New York City in 1782, he began work with the merchants Miller, Hart & Co, who traded and shipped goods to and from America. Maclure was based in the London office but regularly travelled to France and Ireland on business.[6] In 1796 business affairs took him to Virginia, which he thereafter made his home. In 1803 he visited France as one of the commissioners appointed to settle the claims of American citizens on the French government; and during the few years then spent in Europe he applied himself with enthusiasm to the study of geology.[7] While residing in Switzerland, he became impressed with what is now called the Pestalozzi School System, from Swiss pedagogist Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746–1827).[citation needed]

Geological map[edit]

On his return home in 1807 he commenced the self-imposed task of making a geological survey of the United States. Almost every state in the Union was traversed and mapped by him, the Allegheny Mountains being crossed and recrossed some 50 times.[8] The results of his unaided labours were submitted to the American Philosophical Society in a memoir entitled Observations on the Geology of the United States explanatory of a Geological Map, and published in the Society's Transactions, together with the first geological map of that country,[7] Maclure's 1809 Geological Map.[9] This antedates William Smith's geological map of England and Wales (with part of Scotland) by six years, although it was constructed using a different classification of rocks.

Maclure's Geological Map of the United States, published in 1817

In 1812, while in France, Maclure became a member of the newly founded Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (ANSP). In 1817 Maclure became president of the ANSP, a post he held for the next 22 years.

In 1817, while residing in Europe, Maclure brought before the same society a revised edition of his map, and his great geological memoir, which he had issued separately, with some additional matter, under the title Observations on the Geology of the United States of America.[10][11] Subsequent surveys have corroborated the general accuracy of Maclure's observations.[7]

Later years[edit]

In 1819 he visited Spain, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to establish an agricultural college near the city of Alicante. Returning to America in 1824, he settled for some years at New Harmony, Indiana, seeking to develop his vision of the agricultural college. Failing health ultimately required him to relinquish the attempt and to seek (in 1827) a more congenial climate in Mexico.[7] There, in 1840, at San Ángel, he died aged 77. His will provided for a trust fund consisting of most of his property. Under the terms of the Trust, 160 workingmen's libraries were established. The treatment of Maclure's burial site in Mexico was bereft of the honors due the respected humanitarian and geologist:

The burial site of William Maclure

At the distance of a few feet from them, repose the remains of William McClure, a countryman, dear to American science. The Academy of Natural Sciences at Philadelphia, of which he was so long the President and benefactor, erected a small marble monument over his grave, and surrounded it with an iron rail. A short time before I left Mexico, the rail was torn down, the monument upset, and, on the same night, the newly-buried body of a Scotchman was disinterred, stripped of its clothes, and thrown over the wall of the cemetery!

Brantz Mayer[12]

  • Summary of the second phase of Maclure's life (after Moore 1947) [13]
Date Event
1778-1797 Mercantile career, based in London but with regular contact and travel to America
1796 Emigrated to the United States, settling in Philadelphia and became an American citizen.
1797 Retirement from business (Silliman claims this was 1799, Monroe claims 1803)
1799 Elected to American Philosophical Society. Council 1818–1829.
1803 Member of Spoliation Commission in France.
1803-1805 and subsequent years Visits to Pestalozzi and other schools and travels and geological work in Europe.
1805 Brought Joseph Neef to Philadelphia to establish first Pestalozzian schools.
1805-1817 One-man geological survey. First report and geological map published 1809, extended and revised 1817.
1812 Member of Academy of Natural Sciences (President 1817-1840).
1817-1819 Exploring trips to Georgia, Florida, and the Lesser Antilles Islands.
1819 First President of American Geological Society
1819-1824 Agricultural and industrial schools at Alicante, Spain.
1824-1828 With a body of teachers and scientists joined Robert Owen's colony at New Harmony. Established Pestalozzian, manual training and industrial schools and scientific center and library.
1826 Established New Harmony Educational Society and night-school for adults.
1827 With Thomas Say spent winter in Mexico.
1828 Health failing. Attended meeting of Armerican Geological Society for the last time.
1828 Founded New Harmony Disseminator of Useful Knowledge at Industrial School.
1828-1840 Residence in Mexico.
1831 Publication of Opinions on Various Subjects.
1836 Serious illness. Elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society
1837 Rejuvenated Workingmen's Institute and library.
1840 Death in Mexico, 23 March. Will provided for a trust fund of most of his property under which160 workingmen's libraries were established.

New Harmony[edit]

The New Harmony commune in Indiana produced a number of geologists, naturalists, and botanists which were influenced by Maclure, such as: Robert Dale Owen (1801–1877), social reformer; David Dale Owen (1807–1860), geologist, artist; Jane Dale Owen Fauntleroy (1806–1861), educator; and Richard Owen (1810–1890) geologist, first president of Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana. They interacted there with a formidable crop of contemporary geologists, social reformers, botanists, paleobotanists, ethnologists, civil engineers, etc.

Published works[edit]

  • Maclure, W. 1817. Observations on the geology of the West India Islands, from Barbadoes to Santa Cruz, inclusive. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 1(6), 134–149. (BHL link)
  • Maclure, W. 1818. Essay on the formation of rocks, or an inquiry into the probable origin of their present form and structure. Part 1. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 1(7), 261–276. (BHL link)
  • Maclure, W. 1818. Essay on the formation of rocks, or an inquiry into the probable origin of their present form and structure. Part 2. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 1(7), 285–310. (BHL link)
  • Maclure, W. 1818. Essay on the formation of rocks, or an inquiry into the probable origin of their present form and structure. Part 3. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 1(7), 327–345. (BHL link)
  • Maclure, W. 1818. On the geology of the United States of North America, with remarks on the probable effects that may be produced by the decomposition of the different classes of rocks, on the nature and fertility of soils: applied to the different states of the Union agreeably to the accompanying geological map. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society new series 1, 1–92. (BHL link)

Primary Sources[edit]

The European Journals of William Maclure[14] was a monumental book, describing, charting, and chronicling much of the features of Europe.

Taxonomic Eponyms[edit]

Geological Eponyms[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ Bantu, Richard E. (1948). "New Harmony's Golden Years". Indiana Magazine of History (1): 26. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  3. ^ Geikie, Archibald (1905). The Founders of Geology (2nd ed.). London and New York: Macmillan and Co., Limited. pp. 458. Retrieved 3 February 2019 – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ Merrill, George P. (1906). Contributions to the History of American Geology. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. p. 217. hdl:2027/mdp.39015066939177.
  5. ^ Merrill, G.P. (1904) Contributions to the history of American geology. Rep. US Natn. Mus. For 1904, Gov Printing Office, Washington D.C., 189-733, 1906
  6. ^ Donachie, I. William Maclure: Science, Pestalozzianism and Reform in Europe and the United States Accessed 26 August 2012
  7. ^ a b c d  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Maclure, William". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 263.
  8. ^ Page 39 in Greene, J.C. and Burke, J.G. (1978) The Science of Minerals in the Age of Jefferson. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. 68, No. 4, pp. 1-113
  9. ^ Maclure, William (1809). "Observations on the Geology of the United States, explanatory of a Geological Map". Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. 6: 411-428. Retrieved 29 January 2019 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ Maclure, William (1818). "Observations on the Geology of the United States of North America; With Remarks on the Probable Effects That May Be Produced by the Decomposition of the Different Classes of Rocks on the Nature and Fertility of Soils: Applied to the Different States of the Union, Agreeably to the Accompanying Geological Map". Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. 1: 1–91. doi:10.2307/1004895. hdl:2027/uc1.32106008399278. JSTOR 1004895.
  11. ^ Maclure, William (1817). Observations on the Geology of the United States of America; with Some Remarks on the Effect Produced on the Nature and Fertility of the Soils, By the Decomposition of the Different Classes of Rocks; With An Application to the Fertility of Every State in the Union, In Reference to the Accompanying Geological Map; With Two Plates. Philadelphia: Printed for the Author by Abraham Small and sold by him and J. Melish. Retrieved 29 January 2019 – via Internet Archive. William Maclure.
  12. ^ Mexico the Way It Was and Is.(1847) p.158 at archive.org
  13. ^ J. Percy Moore (1947) William Maclure - Scientist and Humanitarian Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. Vol. 91, No. 3. pp.234-249
  14. ^ The European Journals of William Maclure. William Maclure, edited by John S. Doskey. Diane Publishing, (1988), ISBN 0-87169-171-X, 9780871691712, 815 pages.
  15. ^ Le Sueur, C. A. (1818). "Observations on a new genus of fossil shells". Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. 1 (7): 310–313.
  16. ^ Benjamin Eli Smith (1899). The Century dictionary and cyclopedia. The Century co. pp. 3562–.
  17. ^ Burton, J D (1990). "Maclura pomifera". In Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H. (eds.). Hardwoods. Silvics of North America. Washington, D.C.: United States Forest Service (USFS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Vol. 2. Retrieved 3 March 2009 – via Southern Research Station.
  18. ^ Farquhar, Francis P. (1926). Place Names of the High Sierra. San Francisco: Sierra Club. Retrieved 14 August 2009.
  19. ^ Mount Lyell, CA (Map). TopoQwest (United States Geological Survey Maps). Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  20. ^ "Maclure Glacier". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved 30 September 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]