Powell, John Wesley, 1834-1902

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Biographical History

John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) was a civil war veteran, botanist, geologist, and sociologist. He was born in Mount Morris, New York. He attended Wheaton and Oberlin College, though did not earn a degree from either. Powell joined the Union Army in 1861, and would eventually lose his right arm at the elbow at the Battle of Shiloh. Despite the injury, he continued to serve, and was promoted to major. In 1867, he led a small team of mountain men down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon for the first time in history. In 1870, Congress officially established a Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountains region with Powell in charge. This momentous event was just the beginning of Powell’s life as a surveyor. He became the second Director of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1881, and he continued leading surveys until 1894. In addition, Powell helped establish the National Geographic Society and the Geological Society of America, and served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


  • Library of Congress. NACO. Control Number: n 50019556
  • United States Geological Survey. (2012). Scientific features. "John Wesley Powell: Explorer, Geologist, Geographer." Retrieved from http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/usgs_top_story/john-wesley-powell-explorer-geologist-geographer/

Related entities

Geological Survey (U.S.) : Director of USGS.

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  • Geologists
  • Botany


Personal name


  • Botanists
  • Geologists