By: Martha Bergland & Paul G. Haynes
In this long overdue tribute to Wisconsin’s first scientist, authors Martha Bergland and Paul G. Hayes explore the remarkable life and achievements of Increase Lapham (1811–1875). Lapham’s ability to observe, understand, and meticulously catalog the natural world marked all of his work, from his days as a teenage surveyor on the Erie Canal to his last great contribution as state geologist. Self-taught, Lapham mastered botany, geology, archaeology, limnology, mineralogy, engineering, meteorology, and cartography. A prolific writer, his 1844 guide to the territory was the first book published in Wisconsin. Asked late in life which field of science was his specialty, he replied simply, "I am studying Wisconsin.”
Lapham identified and preserved thousands of botanical specimens. He surveyed and mapped Wisconsin’s effigy mounds. He was a force behind the creation of the National Weather Service, lobbying for a storm warning system to protect Great Lakes sailors. Told in compelling detail through Lapham’s letters, journals, books, and articles, Studying Wisconsin chronicles the life and times of Wisconsin’s pioneer citizen-scientist.
After her retirement from teaching English at Milwaukee Area Technical College, Martha Bergland
took a break to write an article on Lapham for Milwaukee Magazine. This break became five years of studying Increase Lapham. She has written two novels, A Farm Under a Lake and Idle Curiosity, both published by Graywolf, and is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Glendale, Wisconsin.
During 33 years at The Milwaukee Journal, science reporter Paul G. Hayes
often relied on the work of Increase Lapham, whose home had been three blocks north of the newspaper office. After retiring in 1995, Hayes continued to write, often referring to Lapham and his contributions. This biography is a fitting finale to a fifty-year acquaintance. Paul and his wife live in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, where they raised two sons.
Published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press
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