Security camera top top "green roof" of new California Academy the Sciences building in 2007.

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The California Academy of science was founded entirely by amateurs. And also the contributions of amateurs working at the academy have actually been fundamental to the functioning out of among arguably the most pivotal clinical breakthroughs of all time, the theory of advancement by herbal selection.

On April 4, 1853, a group of “seven mountain Francisco gentlemen,” in the indigenous of historian Theodore Henry Hittell, met and declared their attention in arranging an college “for the advancement of the organic sciences.”(1) A report enumerating the reasons for this asserts, “We have actually on this coast a virgin floor with new characteristics and attributes which have actually not been based on a crucial scientific examination.” A quick glance native “the eye that the naturalist” sees “a field of richer promise in the department of Natural history in every its selection than has actually previously to be discovered.” The report hits on three key objectives for creating a museum of natural history: to elucidate nature in general, to further democracy, and also to do money. Revealing the surprise mysteries that nature would contribute to the development of the age, by their applications to farming and also commerce. The language the a brand-new and proud imperial democracy permeates the proceeding notes. Science was make our nation “the envy and also terror the despots everywhere,” and also America’s “avenues” of wealth would help spread the blessings of our “free institutions” to the ends of the earth.(2)


California Academy of Sciences an initial location in ~ Montgomery Street between 1853-1857.

Photo: san Francisco history Center, SF publicly Library

It’s worth remembering the abolition to be in complete swing in the 1850s and much the the United says still clung to slavery, raising the inquiry of whom “free institutions” were yes, really for plainly not everybody. On optimal of that, if the California ind were initially abused and their societies torn personal by the Spanish mission system, the gold sirloin turbo-charged the steal of your land and the outright killing of the people. Not a liberty song. As for money, Hittell remarks, “Notwithstanding the do the washing up times . . . There was substantially none because that the Academy.” He documents the secretary’s notes for the very first serial meetings indicating, “No money got at this meeting,” “No cash received,” and the “shorter, though fairly as expressive, phrase ‘No cash,’ i beg your pardon had already been supplied several times.” The academy, however, “was born to live, and it manfully struggled on.”

That the magnificent seven who founded the academy to be “gentlemen scholars,” in the words of botanist Barbara Ertter, and not precisely scientists is perhaps shown in the way they got going.(3) The very first issues of the academy’s proceedings noted the donation of a life owl, “caught near suggest Jackson on san Francisco Bay.”(4) The following meeting’s update videotaped “that the owl to be lost.” one “extensive assortment of tree seeds” to be donated through Dr. Albert Kellogg. The happy amount of twenty-two dollars in member fees was tape-recorded on November 7. ~ above November 28, “Dr. T. S. Anderson presented the Academy through a arsenal of plants, woods, and also shells native Monterey and also Santa Cruz and likewise from Rio de Janeiro, Valparaiso, and the Samoan Islands….Dr. Wm. P. Gibbons spoke about the rocks that Telegraph Hill and the shore of the Bay.”


Interior of California Academy of scientific researches at California and Dupont Streets between 1874-1890.

Photo: mountain Francisco background Center, SF windy Library

Five of the seven founders boring the title “Dr.,” but only among them was a practicing physician. The above-mentioned Dr. Kellogg had actually a pharmacy, however he “was almost too lot engrossed through hunting and working over brand-new plants to patiently wait upon customers,” according to Hittell, and also he was “particularly fond of trees.”(5) two of them were affiliated through geological surveys, one to be an attorney, and one a real estate broker. None was what we would take into consideration today a skilled scientist, however this was not unusual in the early days the natural history museums.

The academy co-founder met weekly in a rented room and also initially released their academic findings in local newspapers. In 1855, the library the the academy totaled sixty-five books, and all the curators mutual a single cabinet. The road to professionalism was very gradual, and overall, the gentleman and gentlewoman scholar model persisted well into the early years of the twentieth century. Females were expressly welcomed in a movement initiated through Dr. Kellogg in the academy’s an initial year: “Resolved, as the feeling of this culture that we highly provide of the help of females in every department of organic science, and also that we earnestly invite your cooperation.”


California Academy of scientific researches on market Street, Feb. 1891.

Photo: mountain Francisco background Center, SF publicly Library

As the college evolved, its identification reflected, influenced, and was linked with the births the the university of California, Stanford University, state and federal agencies including the geological Survey and also the woodland Service, and advocacy organizations like the Sierra Club, the Sempervirens Fund, and also Save the Redwoods League. Dr. Hans Hermann Behr carried the very first whiff the true professionalism come the entity, joining the ranks in 1854. An aristocrat trained together an entomologist, a girlfriend of Alexander von Humboldt, Behr made his mark as a botanist. His 1884 monograph Synopsis that the Genera of Vascular tree in the Vicinity of san Francisco, with an attempt to kinds Them according to Evolutionary principles in fact describes the principle of adaptation and also speciation more clearly than many modern-day attempts. New species arise out of enlarge forms, a procedure that “takes place by the individuals adapting us to external conditions, lugged on by gradual geological changes, and also it is astonishing what a range of distinctions can flourish out the the exact same old stock.” Behr tells us that adaptations will continuously emerge “because in this world changes are constantly walk on. There is neither stop nor return.” The ton of his day and also the leg he was helping to construct poke v the message as right here he completes his thought: “The Creator never repeats himself.”(6)

This last little bit is worth acquisition special note of: the capability to distinguish the “new” indigenous the previously discovered. The amateur botanists at the academy were conscious that the California flora was special and also unique and also that they had a fantastic new panoply of varieties to introduce to science. Yet with so couple of publications through which to recommendation their findings, and also with basically no government upon which come base their declarations the what to be what, lock were sort of stuck. East Coast and also European scientists, considering the academy crew amateurs and also upstarts, resisted species designations comes from California. Yet in this they to be not constantly quite ~ above the up and up. Together Vladimir Nabokov created in his poem “On discovering a Butterfly”: “I found it and also I named it…and I want no various other fame.”(7)

Naming brand-new species was and also continues to it is in the organic sciences equivalent of the Hollywood handprint, and also those snobby specialists willy-nilly called the California varieties themselves. The academy fight for clinical authority go on for decades and finally received a vital blessing indigenous Asa Gray. Gray famously founded the herbarium at Harvard University, and also he to be a friend and an essential supporter the Darwin’s. “It had actually been the tradition of some Eastern males to explain all sorts of California tree from any type of kind of specimens, without ever before having checked out them grow,” Hittell wrote. “They had not infrequently received credit which should have actually remained in California.” Gray’s encourage probably helped bolster botany together the most vibrant discipline at the academy in its early days.

Natural Theology

Asa Gray is additionally an exciting figure in the shifting definitions of and relationships in between the amateur and also the professional. Transparent the nineteenth century, botanizing was all the rage, an activity undertaken by hundreds of thousands of civilization of every ages, male and female, rural and urban. It’s hard to imagine now, and if plant-focused citizen science jobs today ever before reach the historic numbers of understand botanists, we will certainly be in good shape (as long as they provide their data come scientifically vetted databases). Botany was vaunted as an activity great for body and also especially because that soul; it was looked upon as a method to studying God’s creations. Gray was probably Darwin’s most essential supporter in the joined States, but he additionally held come the conviction that plant life discover divinity. Quoting Matthew 6:28 at the opened of his textbook Botany because that Young People—“Consider the lilies the the field, just how they grow”—Gray put a fine suggest on it: “Christ himself directs us to take into consideration with fist the plants about us.” In general he sustained the idea the natural choice and adaptation are part of oh my gosh design. Hewing to what’s referred to as natural theology, part botanists to be very particular about exactly how plant life reflected, together Elizabeth B. Keeney place it, “God’s regular orchestration that the world,” citing, for example, its transformation of the atmosphere to do it habitable. One botanical writer supported gratitude for “the wisdom the the system.”(8)

Gray eagerly enjoined militaries of amateur botanists who offered him with specimens and treated them as colleagues, though not without a personal interest. He was liven compiling a hugely ambitious Flora of phibìc America, and amongst other things, he essential the California information to fill it out. The behooved him to keep positive relations with the crew at the academy. Gray additionally cultivated the steady flow of California types identifications from the ultimate California Geological survey to Harvard, wherein the first set of factory collections made by the survey were deposited at the Gray Herbarium; they remain there come this day. (A duplicate collection established the university of California’s herbarium.) Gray thus paradoxically undermined the academy’s efforts at “autonomous publication” and contributed come the premature birth curtailment that the Geological survey itself by the California legislature, one argument versus it being the it was serving Harvard much more than the state itself.(9)

Despite Gray’s interest in its contribute to the science (and thus religious implications) the botany, the survey was established for less lofty reasons. The gold rush was just that, hard and quick, over fast—like the saying has actually it, a flash in the pan. By 1860 the emergent state that California was looking for new ways to harness and monetize its herbal resources and also thus suggest a geological inspection on the model of numerous older states, together “a hallmark the enlightened state administration…. The way whereby exploitable resources can be cheaply located and advertised to would-be investors.”(10) The inspection was dispatched come map the state and also inventory its plants, animals, rocks, soils, and also minerals. The chugged along in fits and also starts, always begging resources from the California legislature, until the plug was pulled on the in 1868.


Aerial see of golden Gate Park feather northwest over bandstand, De Young Museum, Steinhart Aquarium and the Academy of Science, 1970.

Photo: san Francisco history Center, SF windy Library


The California Academy the Sciences building in golden Gate Park, c. 1970s.

Photo: san Francisco history Center, SF public Library

The academy had close intersections through both the survey and the nascent university system too (which it still does), and also in those early on years there was something of a push-me-pull-you in between the institutions. An initial was a tussle over who obtained the specimens from the decommissioned survey—the college did. The academy’s ranks to be at somewhat of one ebb in ~ this time, and also the regents the the college actually proposed combine the academy into its own, newly created ranks. The manager of the academy at the time, James Cooper, who had been a survey zoologist, fulminated against being “swallowed up in the Asylum because that rebel Professors.” (And the 1960s were practically a hundred years away!)

True Believers

The academy established itself at the best juncture ever before in the history of the organic sciences, surely, and also some would certainly say in the background of all human being intellectual life: at about the time that Darwin’s concept of evolution by natural choice humbly began to disrupt century of belief around life top top earth. Founded in 1853, the academy to be a mere five years behind the presentation the Darwin and also Wallace’s files on the subject of natural an option at the Linnaean Society. Consisted of in the documents was an 1857 letter from Darwin come Asa Gray, elucidating his ideas. Darwin’s biographer Janet Browne states Gray was “by far the most influential botanist in the unified States, and also on an pundit par v Louis Agassiz, his zoological counterpart at Harvard,” and paints a snapshot of Darwin venturing his ideas before the respectable Gray with trepidation. Darwin worried the the devout Congregationalist Gray would “despise me” once he mutual his ideas, but Gray encouraged Darwin: “Can you acquire at the legislation of variation?”(11)

Asa Gray teamed up v Joseph Hooker, the botanist to whom Darwin had first confided his ideas about “transmutation” ten years earlier, and the two scientists presented the work-related of Darwin and Wallace come the Linnaean Society. Browne states they were ultimately “relieved to be able to talk around natural selection in public.” The protracted stress Darwin and Wallace’s principles would develop in science began right here. Gray outlined natural an option at a Harvard University science club conference in 1859. He confessed to playing the provocateur, “maliciously come vex the soul of Agassiz v views therefore diametrically opposed to every his pet notions.” Agassiz had come to be one of the more quickly honorary members of the California Academy the Sciences, upon his acceptance of this position in 1854, Hittell writes, “requesting to be furnished v all the documents concerning the exploration of the viviparous fishes.”(12) as Gray was keen on obtaining the brand-new flora native California, Agassiz to be keen ~ above the fauna.

Browne states that in 1858 and also 1859 Agassiz “dominated American pundit life. The was well known as believing that all life beings, consisting of humans, were created by magnificent fiat. Species were thoughts in the mind of God, the announced in his Essay on Classification.” Agassiz reasoned that no group system can be feasible if varieties were always changing; he opined that since what would ultimately be referred to as ecology is a series of densely linked relationships, species must be constant. Darwin significantly admired Agassiz however this idea that the immutable think of God to be “utterly impracticable rubbish.”(13)

Agassiz’s antipathy and Gray’s enthusiasm towards Darwin probably included some tension to faculty meetings in ~ Harvard. But both men continued to be very esteemed and also their affect felt all the way to California. In 1872 Charles Darwin was elected an honorary member that the academy (a distinction conferred in absentia—he never visited here). The same year, Agassiz addressed the academy, speak to an passionate crowd big enough that the meeting had actually to be held in a venue more capacious 보다 the academy’s Clay Street digs. Agassiz praised the academy for hewing to more lofty comes to than the frantic collection of gold and emphasized California’s duty to rise scientific knowledge.(14) It was no tiny matter the America’s premier intellectual stamped the mission the the academy v his imprimatur. Agassiz took the academy


Rebuilding the Academy of science in 2005, UCSF in ~ Parnassus Heights in background.

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Looking under on the fish tank indigenous the 3rd floor, 2007.

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Looking up through the same fish tank native the pedestrian tunnel beneath it.

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View across Concourse to Academy of sciences on a rainy winter day, 2017.

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1. The primary resource for information concerning the inception of the academy is Theodore Henry Hittell’s The California Academy of Science: 1853–1906, the manuscript of which was among the treasures rescued by Alice Eastwood indigenous the academy after ~ the 1906 earthquake and also right prior to the fire damaged the building. Its current format, released by the academy in 1997, was all set by Al Leviton and also Michele Aldrich, who spent ten year verifying Hittell and annotating his document. 2. Theodore Henry Hittell, The California Academy that Sciences: A Narrative history (San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences, 1997), 489. 3. Barbara Ertter, “People, Plants, and Politics: The breakthrough of institution Based Botany in California 1853–1906,” Cultures and Institutions the Natural history (San Francisco: California Academy that Sciences, 2000). Ertter is the semiretired curator the western north American flora in ~ the college of California, Berkeley. 4. This species name is currently “unaccepted” through the human being Register of maritime Species—I’m make the efforts to number out what the means! 5. Al Leviton, emeritus curator at today’s academy and director that its clinical publications, called me that Kellogg was “a botanist the the very first order because that his time and he defined many brand-new species.” 6. H. H. Behr, Synopsis of the Genera the Vascular tree in the Vicinity of san Francisco, with an attempt to kinds Them according to Evolutionary principles (San Francisco: Payot, Upham, & Co., 1884), 8. I uploaded this text and printed out a PDF of several of it via the Biodiversity legacy Library, component of the internet Archive, i m sorry makes millions of pages of historic text obtainable to every one of us: so COOL. 7. Nabokov was himself a citizen scientist. Through no official training, he however made far-reaching contributions to lepidopterology the are also today shedding new light on planet history. He ran the lepidoptera arsenal at harvard’s Museum of to compare Zoology while teaching literature at Wellesley in the 1940s. 8. Elizabeth B. Keeney, The Botanizers: Amateur scientists in Nineteenth Century America (Chapel Hill: university of north Carolina Press, 1992), 102-9 9. Ertter, 216, quoting wilhelm H. Goetzman, Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the winning of the American West (New York: Knopf, 1966), 355 10. Ibid., 207, 209. 11. Browne, Charles Darwin: The strength of Place, 38 12. Hittell, 29. 13. Brown, Charles Darwin: The strength of Place, 50-52. 14. Hittell, 146.