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Minnesota Geological Survey field notebooks

Identifier: uarc 895

Scope and Content

This collection consists of field notebooks created by the personnel of the Minnesota Geological Survey (MGS) and its predecessor, the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey (MGNHS). The notes include basic data used to compile annual reports and bulletins on geological matters.

For a description of the extent of geological work performed during the eras of the MGNHS and MGS, consult George M. Schwartz, “History of the Minnesota Geological Survey,” which identifies the individual studies made by officers of the survey between 1872 and 1963.

The MGS was a major source of funding for faculty research, which focused on field petrology, mineralogy and economic geology and aligned to the individual professional interests and academic pursuits of the faculty of the Department of Geology.

Of special note are the field notes kept by Ulysses S. Grant, who did most of his work in Northern Minnesota on the North Shore of Lake Superior. His notes are among the most complete and include a study of the gold mining along Rainy Lake (Box 1, folders 6-7; Box 2, folders 8-9). Others notebooks, while less detailed than Grant's, contain a great deal of information about Minnesota geology and natural history.

Some of the volumes are in poor condition and have broken bindings and loose pages.


  • Creation: 1877-1990


Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Historical Note

The Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey (MGNHS) was established by an act of the Minnesota state legislature on May 1, 1872 under the auspices of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Newton Horace Winchell, field geologist and contributor to the Michigan and Ohio surveys, was hired as the State Geologist and director of the survey in June of 1872. Winchell began his work, which was to record all geological, botanical, and zoological phenomena in the state, in September of 1872.

Winchell directed both the geological and natural history division of the survey up until the botanical and zoological divisions were formally separated from the geological survey in 1888 and 1890, respectively. Winchell continued to direct the geological survey until 1900, when the six-volume Final Report of the MGNHS was published. At that time, the Board of Regents declared the geological survey complete and relieved Winchell of his duties. The botanical and zoological divisions continued under the direction of the State Botanist, Conway MacMillan, and State Zoologist, Henry Nachtrieb, respectively.

Though the geological survey was deemed concluded in 1900, Christopher Webber Hall, who became chair of the department of geology after Winchell, and other faculty, conducted fieldwork and produced reports on the state water supply at the request of the U.S. Geological Survey in the Lake Superior region throughout the first decade of the 20th century. Hall retired from the University in 1911.

In 1911, the Board of Regents recommended to the state legislature that appropriations be made for the establishment of a State Geological Survey aligned with the Department of Geology at the University. The survey was not to be a continuation of the original MGNHS, but rather a separate formalized examination of the rock, clay, ores, and other valuable natural materials of the state. In April of 1911 the state legislature allocated $6,500 to fund the survey. William Harvey Emmons of the U.S. Geology Survey was hired as the chair of the geology department and director of the Minnesota Geological Survey (MGS). Emmons served in that role from December 15, 1911 until his retirement on June 30, 1944.

List of Directors:

Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey

  1. Newton Horace Winchell (1872-1900)

Minnesota Geological Survey

  1. William Harvey Emmons (1911-1944)
  2. Frank R. Grout (1944-1947)
  3. George M. Schwartz (1947-1961)
  4. Paul K. Sims (1961-1973)
  5. Matt Walton (1973-1986)
  6. Priscilla Grew (1986-1993)
  7. David L. Southwick (1993-2002)
  8. Harvey Thorleifson (2003-present)

The survey was removed administratively from the Department of Geology and organized as a separate University department in 1961 and became part of the School of Earth Science in the Institute of Technology in 1962. Today, the Minnesota Geological Survey is a department in the University’s Newton Horace Winchell School of Earth Sciences.


31 boxes (15.5 cubic feet)


The collection contains field notebooks created by personnel of the Minnesota Geological Survey, and its predecessor, the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey.


Field notebooks are arranged alphabetically by author’s last name. Many of the notebooks were assigned arbitrary numbers by the Minnesota Geological Survey (MGS) for tracking purposes. Others were not numbered, and/or were not used. The numerical list maintained by MGS is located in Box 4, folder 1. A link to the digitized version of the list is provided at the beginning of the listed contents of the collection.

Several notebooks by Alexander Winchell (Newton Horace Winchell’s brother) and his colleagues at the Michigan Geological Survey were removed from the collection during processing. However, Alexander’s field notes on work done in Minnesota for the initial Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey (MGNHS) were retained. Other notebooks, undated and unrecorded in MGS lists, were also removed.

Separate collections were created for the field notebooks maintained by Christopher Webber Hall, survey assistant and professor of geology from 1878-1911 (collection 731), and Newton Horace Winchell, State Geologist and MGNHS Director from 1872-1900 (collection 981), the subjects of which include private commissions and work done for the U.S. Geological Survey and the initial MGNHS.

Source of acquisition

Notebooks housed in the first three boxes of the collection were deposited in the University of Minnesota Archives by the Geology Department; the remaining notebooks were deposited by the Minnesota Geological Survey in July 2007.

Related Materials in University Archives

William Watts Folwell papers

Christopher Webber Hall papers

Newton Horace Winchell papers

Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey records

Minnesota Geological Survey records

Bell Museum of Natural History records

Board of Regents records

Comptroller records

Department of Botany records

Processing Information

Digitization funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.

Minnesota Geological Survey Field Notebooks, 1877-1990
Archives Staff; updated by Karen Spilman; Rebecca Wilson
Updated May 2004; May 2014
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area