Vanuxem, Lardner

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(b. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 23 July 1792; Bristol, Pennsylvania, 25 January 1848)


Vanuxem was the son of James Vanuxem, a shipping merchant of Philadelphia, formerly of Dunkirk, France. Young Vanuxem left his father’s business at the age of twenty-four and studied for the next three years in Paris at the École des Mines with the mineralogists Alexandre Brongniart, René-Just Haüy, and others. Upon his return to the United States in 1819, Vanuxem became professor of chemistry and mineralogy at South Carolina College, a post that he held until 1826, when he retired to practice geology as a porfession.

Among Vanuxem’s activities during the next few years was a visit to Mexico to examine gold-mining properties; he also made geologic investigations in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. In his work Vanuxem substituted paleontological criteria for classification based on lithology and attitude, correcting Maclure’s and Eaton’s erroneous assignment of the “western country, and the back and upper parts of New York, with secondary rocks” (1829).

Vanuxem was one of the geologists appointed by Governor William L. Marcy of New York in 1836 to carry out the geologic survey of the state. Of the principal geologists of that famous survey, William Williams Mather, Ebenezer Emmons, Timothy A. Conrad, and James Hall–all of whom proved highly competent–Vanuxem was the oldest, the most experienced in the field, and the only one with any formal training in geology. From this survey came his major scientific contribution: his report on the geology of the third geologic district of New York (1842). The slenderest of the four reports, Vanuxem’s was a model of organization, presentation, and economy of words without loss of significant detail. Even more than a century later his report is still the starting point for any geologic work in central New York State. Much of the stratigraphic classification adopted by the survey for the New York rocks, long the standard for the eastern United States, may be attributed to Vanuxem’s sensible influence. It was in this report that he introduced into stratigraphy the concept of type locating.

The most important result of Vanuxem’s studies of the Atlantic coastal plain was his demonstration in 1828, based upon fossils, of the presence of strata distinct from the Tertiary and equivalent to the Cretaceous of Europe–the first recognition of this system in North America and one of the first secure intercontinental correlations.


I. Original Works. Geology of New York. Part III, Comprising the Survey of the Third Geological District (Albany, 1842).

II. Secondary Literature. “Sketch of Professor Lardner Vanuxem,” in Popular Science Monthly, 46 (1895), 833–840, with a portrait.

John W. Wells