California Geological Survey (1860 - 1874)

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The California Geological Survey was created by the state legislature in 1860 and lasted until 1874. Soon after the bill’s passing, Josiah Dwight Whitney of Massachusetts was appointed to the position of state geologist and given the responsibility of directing a four-year geological survey of the state. It was further recommended that a "full and scientific description" of the state's "rocks, fossils, soils, and minerals, and of its botanical and zoological productions” be produced. Joining Whitney on the survey were his two assistants William H. Brewer and William Ashburn, Clarence King as a volunteer reconnaissance geologist, and mining engineer James T. Gardiner. Brewer, who also served as First Assistant to Whitney, was the head botanist from 1860 to 1864 and “the first to botanize to any considerable extent in the high Sierras.” Brewer left the survey in 1864, returning to the eastern United States to make arrangements for the compilation of the botanical report, which was published in 1876 through the effort of private funds donated by citizens of San Francisco. During the seasons of 1866 and 1867, Henry N, Bolander replaced Brewer as the head field botanist on the expedition, while several other naturalists collected specimens in various locations throughout California. Whitney also recruited topographer and mining engineer Charles Frederick Hoffman in March of 1861. The group began the survey in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, where they spent the winter. They journeyed up and down the California interior exploring the Sierra Nevada mountain range, for which the highest peak is now named after Whitney. Other sites where fossils and botanical specimens were collected included; Clear Lake, the San Joaquin River, Yosemite Valley, and the area near Mount Shasta.


  • Brewer, William H., edited by Francis P. Farquhar. Up and Down California in 1860-1864: The Journal of William H. Brewer, Professor of Agriculture in the Sheffield Scientific School from 1864 to 1903. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.
  • Fire Effects Information Database. USDA Forest Service. Plant Species Life Form: “Darlingtonia californica.” (for information on species Darlingtonia californica; accessed July 27, 2010).
  • Brewer, William H.; Watson, Sereno; Gray, Asa; and J. D. Whitney. Botany. Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Wilson and Son, University Press, 1880.
  • Merrill, George P. Contributions to a History of American State Geological and Natural History Surveys. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1920.
  • Block, Robert Harry. “The Whitney Survey of California, 1860-74: A Study of Environmental Science and Exploration: A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in Geography.” PhD diss,. University of California Los Angeles, 1982.
  • New York Botanical Garden: Archives and Manuscripts: Merntz Library. “William Henry Brewer Papers (PP) Brewer, William Henry 1828-1910.” New York Botanical Garden, Merntz Library, 2005.

Date Range

1860 - 1874


  • Geology
  • Mineralogy
  • Zoology
  • Plants
  • Botany


  • United States
  • Sierra Nevada
  • San Bernardino Mountains
  • California
  • San Joaquin
  • Shasta, Mount


Expedition name