Portrait of Alexander Winchell, Revenaugh & Co., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1869. WHi 45215
A self-educated engineer and naturalist, Increase Lapham was Wisconsin's first scientist and one of the state's foremost citizens. He wrote the first book published in Wisconsin; made the first accurate map of the state; investigated Wisconsin's effigy mounds, native trees and grasses, climatic patterns, and geology; and helped found many of the schools, colleges and other cultural institutions, including the Wisconsin Historical Society, that still enrich the state today. He also kept in-touch with many of the leading geologists, botanists, and other scientists and artists of his day, amassing an album of photographs to visually complement his extensive personal correspondence. Lapham's album of portraits, 95 in all, is the feature gallery this month from Wisconsin Historical Images, the Society's online image database.
Lapham was born in Palmyra, New York, in 1811, and came west to Milwaukee in 1836 to assist with the construction of the Milwaukee and Rock River Canal. The canal was never built but Lapham decided to stay in Wisconsin, helping his new hometown grow from a village to a booming city. Appointed deputy surveyor for Wisconsin Territory, Lapham surveyed city plots, registered land claims, and drew the basic plat of the city. In 1836, he published Wisconsin's first scientific imprint, a Catalogue of Plants and Shells Found in the Vicinity of Milwaukee. His Geographical and Topographical Description of Wisconsin, published in 1844, became the first commercially printed book in Milwaukee and proved popular with immigrants seeking information about their new home.
Among his approximately 80 publications, the two most important were The Antiquities of Wisconsin (1855), which focused attention on the state's Indian mounds, and On the Disastrous Effects of the Destruction of Forest Trees, Now Going on So Rapidly in the State of Wisconsin (1876), a pioneering work in the field of forest conservation.
Like other scientists of his time, Lapham shared plants, fossils, rocks, meteorological observations and fish through the mail. It was through this practice that Lapham acquired these photographs.
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