Founder members of the National Academy of Sciences

At its founding, the Academy membership was made up of forty-nine scientists selected from the several states remaining in the Union. A fiftieth prospective member declined the invitation to join. We give below the name, birth and death years, State, and area of science of each. For those with a mathematical or astronomical background, we give a longer mini-biography essentially taken from the National Academy of Sciences website.

Founder members of the National Academy of Sciences

The following fifty scientists were the charter members of the National Academy of Sciences:
  1. Louis Agassiz, 1807-1873
    First NAS Foreign Secretary, 1863-1873

  2. John H. Alexander, 1812-1867
    Topographical engineer

  3. Stephen Alexander, 1806-1883
    Astronomer and mathematician
    Stephen Alexander was a noted astronomer who contributed greatly to the growth of the discipline at Princeton University, where he stayed for nearly fifty years. Alexander, who graduated from Union College in 1824, acquired a position as a mathematics tutor at Princeton in 1833. He joined the faculty of the university as a professor of astronomy in 1840. Alexander was instrumental in establishing the field as an independent discipline and building Princeton's Halsted Observatory in 1869. Alexander conducted research on solar eclipses and also published significant research regarding the atmospheres of Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury. Alexander acquired a number of accolades and honours throughout his career, including the presidency of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

  4. Alexander Dallas Bache, 1806-1867
    At large
    First NAS President, 1863-1867

  5. Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard, 1809-1889
    At large
    Foreign Secretary, 1874-1880
    Brother of John Gross Barnard
    Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard was a notable nineteenth-century scientist who made contributions to the fields of mathematics, physics, astronomy, and chemistry and played a leading role in the development of modern higher education as president of Columbia University. Barnard began his teaching career as a tutor at Yale University before taking positions at the University of Alabama and the University of Mississippi. In 1864 he became the tenth president of Columbia University, a position he would hold for twenty-four years. Barnard made significant advances at Columbia, adding new departments, modernizing research, and championing the principle of equal access to education across gender and other divisions. The women's school, Barnard College, was named for him in order to honor his vision and many contributions to Columbia.

  6. John Gross Barnard, 1815-1882
    Massachusetts; U.S. Army
    Brother of Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard

  7. William Holmes Chambers Bartlett, 1804-1893
    Missouri; U.S. Military Academy
    After graduating first in the West Point class of 1826, William H C Bartlett joined the Army Corps of engineers where he worked on the design of coastal fortifications, publishing a study with J G Totten on expansion in various building materials. In 1836 he was appointed professor of natural and experimental philosophy at West Point. During his over thirty years there he oversaw the installation of new telescopes, made detailed observations of stars and comets, took the first photograph made in the U.S. of a solar eclipse, and wrote textbooks on optics, acoustics, astronomy, and mechanics. Late in life he became interested in actuarial research and left West Point for employment at an insurance company.

  8. Alexis Caswell, 1799-1877
    Rhode Island
    Nineteenth-century scientist Alexis Caswell made significant contributions to astronomy and to the then-nascent field of meteorology. He kept copious weather records for Providence, Rhode Island, for forty-five years, tracking pressure, winds, rain, and temperature. Caswell graduated from Brown University in 1822 and began teaching at that same institution six years later. After declining two previous offers, Caswell accepted a position in 1868 as the president of Brown University, where he remained for six fruitful years.

  9. William Chauvenet, 1820-1870
    Vice President, 1868-1871
    Mathematician William Chauvenet was a highly regarded scientist who made contributions in the areas of trigonometry and geometry and in the application of mathematical principals to astronomy and navigation. He was a driving force in the development of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he designed the course of instruction and taught for several years. In 1862 the Washington University in St Louis appointed Chauvenet to serve as the chancellor of the university, where he remained until resigning in 1869 due to health complications. During his time as chancellor, Chauvenet greatly expanded the university's facilities, student population, and faculty. He was responsible for creating the university's law school in 1867. In addition to his academic contributions,

  10. John Huntington Crane Coffin, 1815-1890
    Maine; U.S. Naval Academy
    Home Secretary, 1878-1881; Treasurer 1881-1887
    John H C Coffin was a sailor, mathematician, and astronomer in an age when the three areas were closely linked. His 1868 Navigation and Nautical Astronomy was for decades the textbook for navigation at the United States Naval Academy. He was assigned to the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., during its early years and played a great role in its development. Fading eyesight caused him to give up astronomical observation in 1849, though he remained at the observatory until 1855, when he took a position as instructor of mathematics at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. It was at this time that he began drafting his noted navigation textbook. As one of the few instructors not called to duty during the Civil War, he became effectively the director of all instruction at the Naval Academy for the duration of the war. At the war's end, he took a position as superintendent with the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac, succeeding Joseph Winlock in that role.

  11. John Adolphus Bernard Dahlgren, 1809-1870
    Pennsylvania; U.S. Navy
    Resigned May 1863
    Founder of the U.S. Navy Ordnance Department

  12. James Dwight Dana, 1813-1895
    First Vice President, 1863-1865
    Mineralogist and geologist

  13. Charles Henry Davis, 1807-1877
    Massachusetts; U.S. Navy
    Charles Henry Davis established the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac and the Navy's Bureau of Navigation, directed the U.S. Naval Observatory, and served as chairman of the 1874 Transit of Venus Commission. Davis joined the U.S. Navy in 1823, serving at sea for seventeen years and becoming a sailing master in 1829. In 1842 he joined the United States Coast Survey, leading hydrographic missions and studying harbors along the east coast of the U.S. It was during his service with the Coast Survey that he began publishing scientific papers, largely on tides and ocean currents. In 1849 he was placed in charge of the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac, which provided information on the location of stars and other astronomical objects in the sky at given times, information that was in that era necessary for ocean navigation. He remained at the Ephemeris and Almanac until 1853, when he was called back into naval service. During the U.S. Civil War, Davis was an active commander, serving as chief-of-staff for the naval assault at the Battle of Port Royal and seeing action on the Mississippi River. In 1863, he established the Navy's Bureau of Navigation, where he remained for two years before taking charge of the U.S. Naval Observatory.

  14. George Engelman, 1809-1884

  15. John Fries Frazer, 1812-1872

  16. Wolcott Gibbs, 1822-1908
    First Home Secretary, 1863-1872; Vice President, 1872-1878; Foreign Secretary, 1886-1895; President, 1895-1900

  17. James Melville Giliss, 1811-1865
    Washington, D.C.; U.S. Navy
    James Melville Gilliss was a naval officer who contributed significantly to the field of astronomy. He joined the United States Navy in 1827 at the age of fifteen, and although he took some time to pursue studies at the University of Virginia, Gilliss remained with the Navy for his career. He was appointed to oversee the Depot of Naval Charts and Instruments, where he was required to make astronomical observations. He soon became an expert, publishing the first North American volume of astronomical observations and the first catalogue of stars. As a result of this experience, Gilliss lobbied for the established of the Naval Observatory, which was built between 1843 and 1844. Not only did Gilliss oversee the project, but he also served as the observatory's director from 1861 until the year of his death. Among his contributions to astronomy were a variety of expeditions to Latin America that led to the documentation of tens of thousands of stars, in addition to the establishment of an observatory in Chile with the purpose of observing Mars and Venus.

  18. Augustus Addison Gould, 1805-1866

  19. Benjamin Apthorp Gould, 1824-1896
    Benjamin Apthorp Gould, an astronomer, was active in securing the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences. Gould's early work was done in Germany, where he published approximately twenty papers on the observation and motion of comets and asteroids. After a controversial tenure administering the Dudley Observatory in Schenectady, New York, Gould in 1861 undertook the enormous task of preparing for publication the records of astronomical observations made at the U.S. Naval Observatory since 1850. But Gould's greatest work was his mapping of the stars of the southern skies, begun in 1870. The four-year endeavour involved the use of the recently developed photometric method, and upon the publication of its results in 1879, it was received as a significant contribution to science.

  20. Asa Gray, 1810-1888
    Resigned January 1867

  21. Arnold Guyot, 1807-1884
    New Jersey
    Geologist and geographer

  22. James Hall, 1811-1898
    New York
    Paleontologist and geologist

  23. Joseph Henry, 1799-1878
    At Large
    Second Vice President, 1866-1868; President, 1868-1878
    Discovered the principle of electromagnetic induction

  24. Julius Erasmus Hilgard, 1825-1890
    At Large; Illinois
    Home Secretary, 1872-1878
    Superintendent of the Coast Survey and a inspector of standard weights and measures for the United States

  25. Edward Hitchcock, 1793-1864

  26. Joseph Stillman Hubbard, 1823-1863
    Connecticut; U.S. Naval Observatory
    Joseph Stillman Hubbard was an important figure in the field of astronomy. He made a number of significant contributions to the understanding of comets and asteroids, including the determination of zodiacs for all but four then-known asteroids. Hubbard graduated from Yale in 1843 and taught at a classical school for one winter prior to moving to Philadelphia to assume an assistantship under his mentor, Sears Cook Walker. He joined an expedition to the Rocky Mountains in 1844 to work as a computer; soon after, he was offered a position as a professor of mathematics for the U.S. Navy. Hubbard was elected to the National Institute of Washington in 1845 and to the American Philosophical Society in 1852.

  27. Andrew Atkinson Humphries, 1810-1883
    Pennsylvania; U.S. Army

  28. John Lawrence Le Conte, 1825-1883
    Pennsylvania, U.S. Army

  29. Joseph Leidy, 1823-1891

  30. J Peter Lesley, 1819-1903

  31. Miers Fisher Longstreth, 1819-1891
    Miers Longstreth was an astronomer and a physician. Born in Philadelphia to a Quaker family, Longstreth studied French, Spanish, and Latin as a young man before leaving school to enter business in a hardware store, becoming a partial owner of the enterprise in 1840. He continued to attend lectures in anatomy and pharmacy, and when a school with an observatory was built near his home, Longstreth purchased a telescope and began studying astronomy during his leisure. In 1850, Longstreth published a formula that could be used to determine one's longitudinal position on Earth based on the location of the Moon in the sky. In 1853 he left business and enrolled in medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he earned his medical degree in 1856. He moved from Philadelphia to Delaware County, Pennsylvania, where he practiced medicine and joined the board of directors at Swarthmore College. Longstreth remained in Delaware County for the rest of his life, practicing as a physician and continuing his studies of astronomy and languages, as well as his work at the college. Longstreth was elected to the American Philosophical Society at Philadelphia in 1858.

  32. Dennis Hart Mahan, 1802-1871
    Virginia; U.S. Military Academy

  33. John Strong Newberry, 1822-1892

  34. Hubert Anson Newton, 1830-1896
    Hubert Anson Newton was a mathematician and astronomer who determined the orbits of meteors and comets, as well as the influence of planets on these orbits. Newton was a founding member of the National Academy of Sciences and one of the first researchers to use photography in his records of meteorological observations. Newton graduated from Yale College in 1850 and was promoted to professor of mathematics at the college in 1855. He later moved to Paris in order to study higher geometry. Upon returning to the United States, he became interested in astronomy and observing meteors. Using the testimony of various people who had observed these 'shooting stars,' he began charting their path and noting the differences according to the annual season. Eventually, Newton calculated the orbit of meteors relative to the sun and was able to predict their annual cycle for recurrent meteor showers. Later, Newton expanded this research to observations of comets. Newton was a member and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a vice president of the American Mathematical Society, a member of the American Philosophical Society, and a member of the American Meteorological Society.

  35. Benjamin Peirce, 1809-1880
    Resigned 1877
    Mathematician with a biography in this Archive.

  36. John Rodgers, 1812-1882
    Indiana; U.S. Navy
    Navigator, explorer, and surveyor

  37. Fairman Rogers, 1833-1900
    First Treasurer, 1863-1881
    Civil engineer

  38. Robert Empie Rogers, 1813-1884
    Brother of William Barton Rogers
    Chemist, physician, and inventor

  39. William Barton Rogers, 1804-1882
    President, 1879-1882
    Brother of Robert Empie Rogers
    Geologist, physicist, and educator

  40. Lewis Morris Rutherfurd, 1816-1892
    New York
    Lewis Rutherfurd was an American astronomer who invented photographic telescopes and helped to establish the field of astrophysics. He became interested in astronomy and physics while he was a student at Williams College. However, upon his graduation in 1834, he studied law and joined the partnership of a New York law firm. Throughout the years of his legal practice, Rutherfurd continued to pursue astronomy during his leisure with an observatory he built on his own property. Rutherfurd retired from law and began to experiment with astronomical photography in 1858. He modified his telescope and outfitted his apparatus as a photographic spectroscope, which was then used to analyze the spectrum of light emitted by the Sun and other stars. Rutherfurd published his first paper in 1862, proposing that the difference in visual spectra emitted by stars might correspond with a difference in their composition. Rutherfurd continued to evolve his telescope designs, engineering models that took increasingly clear pictures, were calibrated for measurement, and captured on film stars that had previously been too faint to record. When he retired in 1877, Rutherfurd donated his apparatus, telescope, and photographic plates to the observatory at Columbia College, which is now Columbia University. Rutherfurd was a trustee of Columbia College.

  41. Joseph Saxton, 1799-1873
    At Large

  42. Benjamin Silliman Sr.,1779-1864
    Scientist who founded the American Journal of Science

  43. Benjamin Silliman Jr., 1816-1885
    Chemist and geologist

  44. Theodore Strong, 1790-1869
    New Jersey
    Like the country itself, mathematics in the United States was in its infancy in the early nineteenth century. Theodore Strong was one of America's first major mathematicians, making contributions to the proof of Stewart's conjectures on the geometry of the circle and introducing then-recent elements from the European continent to the study of calculus in the U.S. After studying at Yale, Strong taught at Hamilton College in New York and Rutgers University in New Jersey. He was a charter member of the National Academy of Sciences.

  45. John Torrey, 1796-1873
    New York

  46. Joseph Gilbert Totten, 1788-1864
    Connecticut; U.S. Army

  47. Josiah Dwight Whitney, 1819-1896

  48. Joseph Winlock, 1826-1875
    Kentucky; U.S. Nautical Almanac
    Joseph Winlock was a nineteenth-century mathematician and astronomer and a founding member of the National Academy of Sciences. He led expeditions to view solar eclipses, modernized the Harvard Observatory, and made contributions in the field of double stars. He began his career working for the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac, a record of astronomical data for the sun, moon, stars, and planets used both by astronomers and in navigation. He briefly worked for the U. S. Naval Observatory before returning to the Ephemeris and Almanac as director in 1857. After a period at the U.S. Naval Academy, he moved to Harvard University and became the Phillips Professor of Astronomy and director of the Harvard Observatory.

  49. Jeffries Wyman, 1814-1874

  50. Uriah Atherton Boyden, 1804-1879
    Refused appointment

Last Updated September 2018