Hayden, Ferdinand V.

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Ferdinand V. Hayden

Born September 7, 1829
Westfield, Massachusetts

Died December 22, 1887
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Explorer and geologist

"From the river our path led up the steep sides of the hill for about one mile when we came suddenly and unexpectedly in full view of the [Mammoth Hot Springs of Yellowstone].… Before us arose a high white mountain, looking precisely like a frozen cascade.…

Geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden is best remembered for his 1871 expedition that directly led Congress to pass and President Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885; served 1869-77; see entry) to sign legislation creating Yellowstone National Park. Reports by Hayden and members of his expedition, which included painter Thomas Moran (1837–1926) and photographer William Henry Jackson (1843–1942), thrilled and astounded politicians and the general public about the natural wonders and sublime beauty of the region. As a geologist and explorer, Hayden traveled in and mapped the states of Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho. During his early work in the Badlands of South Dakota (then Dakota territory), Hayden was called "the man who picks up stones running" by Native Americans because of his quick method for collecting specimens. Hayden was also the first person on record to discover dinosaur fossils in North America (in 1854 in Montana).

Doctor turned scientist

Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden was born in Westfield, Massachusetts, on September 7, 1829, to Asa and Melinda Hayden. When Hayden was ten, his father died, and his mother remarried soon afterward. Hayden was sent to live with an uncle who owned a small farm near Rochester, New York. He worked on the farm when not attending school. Hayden started teaching in a local school when he was sixteen. At eighteen, he walked away from the farm with little money but great determination to forge a life of his own. He arrived at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, where he was befriended by the school's president, Asa Mahan (1800–1889), who helped him enroll at the school in 1847. Hayden graduated in 1850, overcoming hardships of little money and his own shyness.

Following graduation, Hayden returned to New York. Having decided to pursue a career in medicine, he entered Albany Medical College. Hayden received his M.D. from Albany in 1853, but by the time he graduated, his interest had turned to science. He had become a friend of geologist and paleontologist James Hall (1811–1898). Paleontology (the study of the past through fossils) and geology (the study of earth history) were relatively new sciences and methods for scientific understanding of ancient history.

Instead of starting a medical practice, Hayden was sponsored by Hall to join paleontologist Fielding Bradford Meek (1817–1876) on a trip into the Badlands of Dakota territory (present-day South Dakota) in 1853 to collect fossils and rocks. Hayden gained valuable experience on the expedition, learning how to observe and make maps and reports of strata (layers) of rock as a means for understanding the history of a region. The Badlands earned its name for its difficult, rocky terrain of deep gullies and steep hills. As one of the people with some background in science, Hayden often served to retrieve materials or scout adjacent areas. Local Native Americans observing his quick movements nicknamed Hayden "the man who picks up stones running."

Becomes noted explorer and scientist

In 1854, the twenty-five-year-old Hayden returned to the Badlands region to begin an expedition, sponsored by the American Fur Company, to map the Missouri River basin. Traveling mostly by foot for almost two years, Hayden and his fellow expedition members packed light provisions in order to be able to quickly set up and take down camps that served as temporary central locations for their surveys. They followed the Missouri River from Dakota Territory into present-day Montana. Near the end of their journey (in Fort Benton, around the middle of northern Montana), the expedition set up camp at the confluence (where rivers meet) of the Missouri and the Judith Rivers and made a great discovery. Hayden uncovered and collected teeth that were later determined to be those of dinosaurs. Hayden's 1854 expedition, then, was the first on record in North America to uncover the dinosaur remains.

In 1856, Hayden joined an expedition led by Lieutenant Gouverneur K. Warren (1830–1882) of the Topographical Engineers to explore the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers in Montana, as well as the Black Hills of Dakota Territory. In 1858, Hayden reunited with Meek to explore unsettled areas of Kansas, which was not yet a state, and the following year Hayden returned to Montana and followed the Yellowstone River further south, toward the Wyoming border. Viewing the rugged and sublime natural environment of the area made a significant impression on Hayden as a scientist and lover of nature. Over campfires at night, he began discussing with his traveling companions the possibility that the lands could be set aside to remain in their pristine splendor. Railroads and settlers were already making their way into the region. During winter months, Hayden taught at the University of Pennsylvania.

Everything but Raffle Tickets and Bake Sales

To help promote and finance his expeditions, Hayden gave out gifts to sponsors, politicians, and scientists. The gifts included reports, maps, books of photographs, such as Sun Pictures of Rocky Mountain Scenery (1870), and specimens. Young scientists wanted to join his groups to gain first-hand experiences they could write about and publish. Hayden made gifts to army officers in exchange for supplies and transportation when needed by his group. Businessmen, especially those with interests in settling the West, took interest in Hayden's work. Among them was railroad man Jay Cooke (1821–1905; see entry), who saw Hayden's reports on the spectacular scenery as another promotional opportunity for more westward train travel.

When the Civil War (1861–65) began, Hayden joined the Union army to utilize the training as a physician he had rarely employed since graduating from college a decade earlier. He remained with the army until after the end of the war, retiring in June 1865 at the age of thirty-six with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Hayden returned to teaching during the fall of 1865 and the winter of 1865–66 at the University of Pennsylvania before journeying again to the Badlands in the spring of 1866. That expedition was sponsored by the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.

Meanwhile, the amount of resources used during the Civil War and the increasing industrialization of the northeast led Congress in March 1867 to authorize funding for geological studies of natural resources in the west. Hayden was selected to lead a survey team along the fortieth parallel, the southern border of Nebraska, which became a state that year. Hayden and another scientist, Clarence King (1842–1901), were the first major field leaders of the newly formed U.S. Geological Survey for the Territories.

While pleased with government support for his efforts, Hayden also found himself competing for funds with fellow surveyors: King won a large appropriation to survey routes for railroads, while John Wesley Powell (1834–1902) explored the Colorado basin and Lieutenant George Wheeler (1842–1905) won funds for exploring Nevada and Colorado. Hayden led small, government-funded expeditions to Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah between 1868 and 1869.

Hayden created a system of uniformly scaled maps that made it easier to capture the topography and geology of an area and to easily compare it with other maps. The Department of the Interior adopted the system. Previously, accurate maps of the frontier were rarely available. Meanwhile, on November 9, 1871, Hayden married Emma C. Woodruff, daughter of a Philadelphia merchant. The couple, both in their forties at the time of the marriage, would have no children. After the wedding, Hayden continued to teach at the University of Pennsylvania until the spring of 1872, when he resigned to devote his full attention to government work.

Discovers the glory of Yellowstone

After Hayden lobbied Congress to fund a survey of the Yellowstone territory, Congress appropriated $40,000 in 1871 for an official expedition led by Hayden. His thirty-four-member crew included photographer William Henry Jackson, painter Thomas Moran, and geologists, mineralogists, topographical artists, botanists, and other scientists. The expedition focused on creating the first accurate maps of the region, capturing the region's geography in words, illustrations, and photographs, observing unusual features, like hot springs and petrified trees, collecting specimens and other data, and making notes on the living creatures they encountered. Among other things, the expedition produced the first list of butterflies inhabiting the area.

When he returned to Washington, D.C., to report on Yellowstone, Hayden so amazed Congress with a description of Yellowstone in his five-hundred-page report, pictures of the region, and Moran's paintings that Congress quickly addressed Hayden's vision for preserving Yellowstone. A bill was introduced to set aside an area encompassing more than two million acres surrounding the Yellowstone River as public land. President Ulysses S. Grant signed the measure into law on March 1, 1872.

Contract with Congress

When Ferdinand Hayden received funding for field work in what is now Yellowstone National Park, the conditions for his work were spelled out in a letter from Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano (1809–1896) to Hayden, dated May 1, 1871. The excerpt below, from the ParkNet: National Park Service Web site, lists those conditions:

In accordance with the act of the third session of the 41st Congress, making appropriations for the continuation of the Geological Survey of the Territories of the United States, dated March 4, 1871, you are appointed U.S. Geologist, to date from the first day of July, 1871, with a salary of four thousand dollars per annum. You will be permitted to select your own assistants who will be entirely subject to your orders, and all your expenditures of the public funds are expected to be made with judicious [careful] economy and care.

The area of your explorations must be, to some extent, discretionary, but in order that you may continue your labors of preceding years, geographically, your explorations of the present season will be confined mostly to the Territories of Idaho and Montana. It is probable that your most available point of departure will be Salt Lake City, proceeding thence northward along the mail route as a base to Helena, Montana, and completing the season's work about the sources of the Missouri and Yellow Stone rivers. You will be required to make such instrumental observations, astronomical and barometrical, as are necessary for the construction of an accurate geographical map of the district explored, upon which the different geological formations may be represented with suitable colors.

As the object of the expedition is to secure as much information as possible, both scientific and practical, you will give your attention to the geological, mineralogical, zoological, botanical, and agricultural resources of the country. You will collect as ample material as possible for the illustration of your final reports, such as sketches, sections, photographs, etc.

Should your route lead you in the vicinity of any of our Indian tribes, you will secure such information in regard to them as will be useful to this Department, or the Country. It is desirable that your collections in all Departments shall be as complete as possible, and you will forward them to the Smithsonian Institution to be arranged according to law.

You will be expected to prepare a preliminary report of your labors, which will be ready for publication by Jan'y 1,1872.

Meanwhile, Hayden had brought images and descriptions of Yellowstone to the American public in magazine articles and lectures. In an article in Scribners Monthly, an Illustrated Magazine for the People in February 1872, Hayden described the many wonders of Yellowstone, including the first encounter with the Mammoth Hot Springs: "From the river our path led up the steep sides of the hill for about one mile when we came suddenly and unexpectedly in full view of the [Great Hot Springs of Yellowstone].… Before us arose a high white mountain, looking precisely like a frozen cascade.… [No] future tourist in traveling the far west will think of neglecting this most wonderful of the physical phenomena of that most interesting region." Railroads brought visitors to Yellowstone in the 1870s. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Yellowstone was being visited by more than three million people annually.

After his triumph with Yellowstone, Hayden continued to lead surveys in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah for the next decade. His health began failing and he was forced to quit field work in his mid-fifties in 1886. He died the following year. Hayden had been a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, the National Academy of Sciences, the Geological Societies of London and Edinburgh, the Geologische Reichsanstalt of Vienna, and the Société Impériale of Moscow. Forty-four species of life, from a moth to a dinosaur fossil, have been named for him, as well as geological features, towns, and lakes.

For More Information


Cassidy, James G. Ferdinand V. Hayden: Entrepreneur of Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Foster, Mike. Strange Genius: The Life of Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden. Niwot, CO: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1994.

Goetzmann, William H. Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and Scientist in the Winning of the American West. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966. Reprint, New York: Norton, 1978.

Merrill, Marlene D., ed. Yellowstone and the Great West: Journals, Letters, and Images from the 1871 Hayden Expedition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

U.S. Geological Survey. Frederick Vandiveer Hayden and the Founding of the Yellowstone National Park. Washington, DC: General Publishing Office, 1973.

Web Sites

Hayden, F. V. "The Wonders of the West—II: More about the Yellowstone" (from Scribners Monthly, an Illustrated Magazine for the People, February 1872, pp. 388–96). Making of America; Cornell University Library.http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/sgml/moa-idx?notisid=ABP7664-0003-72 (accessed on July 22, 2004).

"Washburn and Hayden Expeditions." Wyoming Tales and Trails.http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/photos2.html (accessed on July 22, 2004).

"Yellowstone National Park: Its Exploration and Establishment." ParkNet: National Park Service.http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/haines1/ (accessed on July 22, 2004).