Minnesota's Geologist: The Life of Newton Horace Winchell
The story of the scientist who first mapped Minnesota’s geology, set against the backdrop of early scientific inquiry in the state
Tracing Newton Horace Winchell’s path to becoming a leading light of an emerging scientific field, Minnesota’s Geologist recreates the early days of scientific inquiry in Minnesota, when one man’s passion for learning could unlock secrets of the state’s distant past and present landscape. This first telling of Winchell’s life story is set against a backdrop of Minnesota’s geological complexity and splendor.
At twenty, Newton Horace Winchell declared, “I know nothing about rocks.” At twenty-five, he decided to make them his life’s work. As a young geologist tasked with heading the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey, Winchell (1839–1914) charted the prehistory of the region, its era of inland seas, its volcanic activity, and its several ice ages—laying the foundation for the monumental five-volume Geology of Minnesota. Tracing Winchell’s remarkable path from impoverished fifteen-year-old schoolteacher to a leading light of an emerging scientific field, Minnesota’s Geologistalso recreates the heady early days of scientific inquiry in Minnesota, a time when one man’s determination and passion for learning could unlock the secrets of the state’s distant past and present landscape.
Traveling by horse and cart, by sailboat and birchbark canoe, Winchell and his group surveyed rock outcrops, river valleys, basalt formations on Lake Superior, and the vast Red River Valley. He studied petrology at the Sorbonne in Paris, bringing cutting-edge knowledge to bear on the volcanic rocks of the Arrowhead region. As a founder of the American Geological Society and founding editor of American Geologist, the first journal for professional geologists, Winchell was the driving force behind scientific endeavor in early state history, serving as mentor to many young scientists and presiding over a household—the Winchell House, located on the University of Minnesota’s present-day mall—that was a nexus of intellectual ferment. His life story, told here for the first time, draws an intimate picture of this influential scientist, set against a backdrop of Minnesota’s geological complexity and splendor.
"Sue Leaf has done a great service for the people of Minnesota and beyond by telling the story of Newton Horace Winchell so thoughtfully and beautifully. Readers of Minnesota's Geologist will be rewarded with new insights into why the world around us functions as it does. This is a book that I've been hoping for." —Harvey Thorleifson, director, Minnesota Geological Survey
- Author: Sue Leaf
- Publisher; University of Minnesota Press (May 2020)
- Hardcover, 280 pages, 30 b&w plates, 6 x 9
- ISBN 978-1-5179-0168-4