Stauffer, Jacob, b. 1808

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Jacob Stauffer was a Pennsylvania naturalist.

From the guide to the Classification of orders, families and genera of fish, [ca. 1866-1879], Circa 1866-1879, (American Philosophical Society)

Jacob Stauffer (1808–1880) was a lawyer, naturalist, printer, lithographer, and photographer. Stauffer’s scientific investigations dealt with various subjects, including insects, snakes, mice, fossils, and mosses; however, his main interests were entomology and the classification of fish. His notebooks were filled with his descriptions and illustrations, some of which he published as woodcuts or lithographs himself. He met and corresponded with many eminent naturalists of his day.

Jacob Stauffer was born in 1808 in Manheim, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the son of the clockmaker Samuel C. Stauffer and his wife Hannah Wright Stauffer. The boy received a “common school education” and from a young age worked at his father’s store in town. Stauffer displayed a remarkable talent for drawing and painting; however, his father refused to support his son’s career in art. Instead, a retired West Pointer, who was boarding with his family for a time, inspired young Jacob to pursue military training. Stauffer was later appointed adjutant of the Eighteenth Regiment of the Pennsylvania Militia (1825), and eventually became its first major and finally colonel.

Around 1820, Stauffer moved to Philadelphia, where he became acquainted with Thomas Sully (1783-1872, APS 1835), Henry Inman (1801-1846) and other artists and engravers. He took classes in drawing and oil painting while supporting himself with a clerkship in the counting house of S. Eckstein, and later in the recording office of Philadelphia. In 1830 he returned to Manheim to open a store and operate a printing press. He is believed to have printed the town’s first, but short-lived, newspaper. His interest in natural history eventually compelled Stauffer to sell off his general merchandise and become an apothecary.

Stauffer remained in Manheim for about eight years, until he moved to Richland, now part of Mount Joy. To this town he introduced the first printing press, a lithographic press and daguerreotypy, which had only recently been invented. He was a member of the council and school board as well as the First Presbyterian Church and Sunday school. His various avocations did not prevent him from devoting much of his time to the study of natural history. He collected specimens and made detailed notes and drawings on his rambles through the area around Mount Joy. His son David McNeely Stauffer wrote that “among my earliest recollections are the happy Saturdays spent in long walks through the countryside with my father, searching for rare plants and insects.”

Stauffer’s contributions to natural science include important observations on the parasitism of certain native Scrophulariaceae, and of the Comandra umbellate, which Asa Gray (1810-1888, APS 1848) published in Silliman’s Journal in 1853. Stauffer’s talent as an artist is evident in the large manuscript books he filled with his descriptions and colored drawings. In 1853 he published at Gray’s urging a pamphlet that was produced entirely by his own hand: he described his “investigations,” drew the illustrations, printed the lithographs, and stitched the pages. The little book included descriptions of some of the plants he had discovered on his walks. After 1854 Stauffer also contributed drawings and essays on botany to his son’s newspaper, the Mount Joy Herald .

Stauffer’s scientific accomplishments also included the discovery of several new species of fishes, including the singular blind catfish. Stauffer, who was entirely self-taught, corresponded about various scientific topics with many prominent naturalists of his day, including Asa Gray, Joseph Henry (1797-1878, APS 1835), Samuel Haldeman (1812-1880, APS 1844), Edward D. Cope (1840-1897, APS 1866) and John L. Le Conte (1825-1883, APS 1853), all of whom recognized the significant scientific value of Stauffer’s work. As the biographer Alexander Harris noted in 1872, “if a strange plant or insect is found and a name wanted for it, you are usually advised to ‘go to Stauffer, he can tell you.’” However, his accomplishments have remained largely obscure due to the fact that even though he contributed many essays and drawings to newspapers and journals, his illustrated manuscript books were never published. Harris explained that Stauffer resisted publication of his notebooks because he had in the books of others “found nothing new and no improvement on works previously written in the same subject.” He evidently did not want to risk producing such a book himself.

In the panic of 1858 Stauffer lost his property after he had endorsed a note for a presumably wealthy friend. As a result he moved to Lancaster, where his son Henry Francis had established himself as a newspaper editor. Stauffer unsuccessfully petitioned the state legislature to support him as a state entomologist for a period of three years. His friend Emanuel C. Reigart (1796-1869) then helped him to secure the job as librarian at the Lancaster Athenaeum, which Reigart had founded. He also received permission to conduct a patent consulting business on the premises of the library and museum. In his capacity as a patent solicitor Stauffer completed many drawings of machinery and patented articles.

In 1862 Stauffer belonged to a group of several local naturalists, including Simon Snyder Rathvon (1812-1891), who founded the Linnaean Society of Lancaster. Stauffer served as the society’s secretary. He also belonged to the Lancaster City and County Horticultural Society, the Entomological Society of Philadelphia, and he was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1866. Stauffer was also for many years a leading elder in the Lancaster Presbyterian Church.

Stauffer died in Lancaster in 1880. He remained his entire life a man of modest circumstances. Nevertheless, he never deprived himself from acquiring a book or instrument needed for his scientific studies. His library of books, charts, manuscripts and maps was more valuable then anything else in his possession at the time of his death.

Stauffer was married three times. He evidently married for the first time during his stay in Philadelphia. By 1850 he was married to Sarah L. Stauffer, his third wife; she died in 1875. He had five children, including one adopted daughter. One of his sons was the engineer and engraver David McNeely Stauffer. Another son was the newspaper publisher and poet Henry Francis Stauffer.

From the guide to the Jacob Stauffer Papers, 1844-1879, 1844-1879, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Classification of orders, families and genera of fish, [ca. 1866-1879], Circa 1866-1879 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Jacob Stauffer Papers, 1844-1879, 1844-1879 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn John L. (John Lawrence) LeConte papers, 1812-1897, 1812-1897 American Philosophical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
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Place Name Admin Code Country
Fishes--North America


Birth 1808

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SNAC ID: 34914151