Winchell, Alexander, 1824-1891

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1824-12-31
Death 1891-02-19
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

The Michigan Geological Survey was created by Public Act 20 of 1837. Its purpose was to conduct a geological and mineralogical survey of the state. The state legislature appointed Douglass Houghton the first state geologist (1837). In 1921, the state legislature established the Department of Conservation, and the Michigan Geological Survey became part of that department (Public Act 17 of 1921). The Department of Conservation established the Geological Survey Division circa 1947. In 1968, the department was renamed the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) (Public Act 353 of 1968). In 1995, Governor John Engler separated the environmental protection and natural resources conservation functions of the DNR, and created the Department of Environmental Quality (Executive Reorganization Order 1995-16). The Geological Survey Division was transferred to the Department of Environmental Quality.

From the description of Map of the state of Michigan, colored to show the geological formations / by Alexander Winchell. (State Archive of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 49880092

Chancellor of Syracuse University, 1872-1874; professor of geology and zoology at Vanderbilt University, 1875-1878; chairman of department of geology and paleontology at the University of Michigan, 1879-1891.

From the description of Alexander Winchell papers, 1872-1879 [microform] (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 75956280

Alexander Winchell was a professor of geology and paleontology at the University of Michigan and director of the Michigan Geological Survey. In 1872 he was appointed the first Chancellor of Syracuse University. He was inaugurated on February 13, 1873 and resigned on June 24, 1874.

From the guide to the Alexander Winchell Papers relating to Syracuse University, 1850-1896, 1871-1880, (Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan)

American geologist.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Harper and Brothers, 1869 Mar. 8. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270586738

From the description of Autograph letter signed : Ann Arbor, to Jeannette L. and Joseph B. Gilder, 1884 Aug. 25. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 646057607

Professor of geology and paleontology at the University of Michigan, director of the Michigan Geological Survey, chancellor of Syracuse University, and popular lecturer and writer on scientific topics.

From the description of Papers relating to Syracuse University [microform], 1850-1896 (bulk 1871-1880). (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 34420417

From the description of Alexander Winchell papers, 1833-1891. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 34423340

Geologist, educator, and author.

From the description of Alexander Winchell note, 1885. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70981395

Alexander Winchell was professor of geology and paleontology at the University of Michigan, director of the Michigan Geological Survey, and chancellor of Syracuse University, but he was most noted as a popular lecturer and writer on scientific topics and as a Methodist layman who worked to reconcile traditional religious beliefs to nineteenth-century developments in the fields of evolutionary biology, cosmology, geology, and paleontology.

Winchell was born December 31, 1824, in the town of North East, Dutchess County, New York. After studying medicine and teaching school as a teenager, he entered Amenia Seminary, also in Dutchess County, in the fall of 1842. In 1844 he enrolled at Wesleyan University, from which he graduated in 1847. Over the following years Winchell held a succession of teaching positions at Pennington Male Seminary in New Jersey, Amenia Seminary, Newbern Academy in Alabama, Mesopotamia Female Seminary in Eutaw, Alabama, and Masonic University in Selma, Alabama.

Masonic University opened its doors in the fall of 1853, with Winchell as president. Unfortunately a yellow fever epidemic forced the school to close shortly thereafter, and Winchell accepted an offer of the chair in physics and civil engineering at the University of Michigan. Two years later his appointment was changed to the chair in geology, zoology, and botany.

By the time Winchell arrived at the University of Michigan, he had already begun his output of scientific publications, beginning with "Solar Spots," published in the New York Tribune, November 5, 1849. Winchell was a prolific writer: his bibliography contains 565 works.

While teaching at the University of Michigan, Winchell lobbied for the revival of the Michigan Geological Survey, which had expired after the death of Douglass Houghton, the first state geologist, in 1845. In 1859 the legislature reestablished the survey. Winchell was appointed state geologist, while keeping his position at the University of Michigan. Winchell's survey concentrated on the geology of the Lower Peninsula, which coincided with his interest in the fossils found in the sedimentary rocks underlying that part of the state. A progress report was published in 1861 ( First Biennial Report of the Progress of the Geological Survey of Michigan, MHC call number EA/153/MG345/F527 ). With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the legislature discontinued funding for the survey, and officially disbanded it in 1863.

The Civil War brought Winchell an opportunity to return to the South for a time. In 1863 he took up a lease on a cotton plantation near Vicksburg, Mississippi, that had been seized from rebels. The venture brought him nothing but problems, however, and after Winchell returned to Michigan in 1864, his brother Martin, who was managing the plantation, was killed by guerrillas.

It was during the 1860s that Winchell seems to have developed his most original geological theory . Private surveys of a number of oil-producing areas resulted in Winchell's exposition of the anticlinal reservoir theory of petroleum storage, which was proven and developed further by others in later years.

Also in the 1860s Winchell first described the lake effect which moderates the climate of western Michigan, making the region suitable for orchard development. This discovery came as a result of a private survey of the Grand Traverse Bay region of Michigan.

By 1869, the Michigan legislature was once again prepared to fund the Geological Survey, and Winchell was appointed director of the survey. Winchell's plan for a comprehensive survey of the resources of the state was described in Report on the Progress of the State Geological Survey of Michigan, published in 1871 (MHC call number DB/2/W759/M678/Set B/v. 1), but he never completed the task. After disputes with the Geological Survey board and with the legislature, Winchell resigned his position with the survey in 1871.

Winchell kept his teaching position at the University of Michigan until 1873, when he was named the first chancellor of Syracuse University. Disappointed with the position, Winchell resigned the following year, but remained at Syracuse as professor of geology.

In 1876, Winchell accepted a position as professor of geology and zoology at Vanderbilt University, but was fired in 1878 in a dispute over the teaching of evolution. Shortly thereafter Winchell returned to the University of Michigan, where he remained, as professor of geology and paleontology, until his death in 1891.

The relationship between science and religion was an interest of Winchell's beginning at least in the late 1850s, when he published Theologico-Geology, or, The Teachings of Scripture Illustrated by the Conformation of the Earth's Crust, and Voices from Nature: Creation the work of One Intelligence and not the Product of Physical Forces (both in MHC call number DB/2/W759/M678/Set B/v. 4). His work in this area expanded in the late 1860s, when Winchell began to tour, giving popular lectures on scientific topics. In 1869, while Winchell was directing the Geological Survey and teaching at the university, he also gave 48 public lectures in 5 states.

Winchell's thinking on the relationship between science and religion was affected by the debate over Darwinism that raged in American scientific circles after the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859. Winchell was never a Darwinist, but by the 1870s he seems to have accepted evolution without accepting the theory of natural selection.

Two topics seem to have given Winchell much trouble in his attempts to reconcile his scientific knowledge with his religious faith: the age of the earth and the origin of the human race. Winchell's geological and paleontological research convinced him of the great age of the earth, which he tried to reconcile to the seven days of the Genesis creation story by making each day of creation represent an epoch of great length. In describing the history of the human race, also, Winchell could not reconcile the age of humanity, as revealed by archeological discoveries and explained by evolutionary theory, with biblical chronology and genealogy. Winchell solved this problem by suggesting the Adam was not the first human, but that Africans and other non-whites had evolved separately and were living before Adam was created. This solution caused various difficulties, and was the immediate cause of Winchell's firing from Vanderbilt University.

Among other organizations in which Winchell was active, he was president of the Michigan State Teachers Association in 1858 and editor of the Michigan Journal of Education in 1859; an organizer of the University Musical Society of the University of Michigan and the Choral Union in 1879 and 1880; an organizer of the Geological Society of America in 1888 and its president in 1890.

Winchell married Julia F. Lines of Utica, New York, December 5, 1849. They had six children, only two of whom survived Winchell. Alexander Winchell died February 19, 1891, in Ann Arbor.

From the guide to the Alexander Winchell Papers, 1833-1891, (Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan)

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Subjects:

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