Founded in 1856 by twelve physicians, a lawyer, an engineer and a businessman, for the advancement of science in the rapidly growing town of St Louis, Missouri, the new organization was named The Academy of Science of St. Louis.
Its mission was to promote “Zoology, Botany, Geology, Mineralogy, Paleontology, Ethnology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Meteorology, Comparative Anatomy, and Physiology.”
Academy members started a museum collection, maintained a library, published a journal and corresponded with leading scientists of the day providing information concerning the lands that lay adjacent and to the west of St. Louis.
Many of the Academy’s founders made major contributions to science and proved to be catalysts for the creation of science-related institutions in St. Louis.
A young physician, George Engelmann, the Academy’s first president and a prominent amateur botanist, helped plan the renowned Missouri Botanical Garden. Friedreich Adolphus Wisleznus, a doctor and an accomplished observer of Western natural history, helped found the Missouri Historical Society.
The ten other physicians included: Benjamin Shumard, who assisted in Missouri’s first exhaustive geological survey; Simon Pollak, who helped found the Missouri School for the Blind; Moses Linton, a St. Louis University Medical School teacher, who first published the St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal; William McPheeters, a St. Louis Medical College and Missouri Medical College teacher; Moses M. Pallen, a St. Louis University teacher who served as St. Louis’ health officer; Charles A. Pope, a St. Louis Medical College Dean, who allowed Academy members to meet and house their collections and library in one of the college’s buildings; Hiram A. Prout, who came to teach medicine and became an expert paleontologist; Charles W. Stevens, a St. Louis Medical College teacher, who became superintendent of the St. Louis County Insane Asylum; W. H. Tingley, a physician; and John H. Watters, a St. Louis Medical College and Missouri Medical College teacher.
The other founders included: James B. Eads, a self-taught engineer, who built the Eads Bridge over the Mississippi River; attorney Nathaniel Holmes, who acquired numerous publications from other science societies for the Academy; and Charles P. Chouteau, owner of the American Fur Trading Co., who studied the region’s natural history and contributed to the museum’s collections.
Early members of the Academy collected natural history specimens for their society. These items were stored and made available to the public in various museums throughout the Academy’s history.
Choteau and Wislizenus accumulated botanical, zoological and geological specimens from the vast and little-known regions of the American West. In later years, collectors such as Henry M. Whelpey (Native American artifacts) and Stratford Lee Morton (minerals, sea shells and fossils) donated their collections to the Academy.
For many years, the Academy published one of the world’s most respected scientific journals, Transactions of the Academy of Science of St. Louis.
Scientific societies of the eastern United States and in Europe were eager to receive copies of Transactions, which contained papers on the natural history and geology of the American West. Outstanding scientist and Academy member African-American Charles Henry Turner, a devoted entomologist, published over 50 papers on subjects in neurology, invertebrate ecology and animal behavior in the Academy’s world-renowned Transactions. Click here to access the Transactions digital archive.
Throughout its history, the Academy has promoted important scientific work and continues to be a staunch supporter of math and science education.
Academy-sponsored lectures, exhibits and television productions have been an important part of the St. Louis area’s educational scene. Thousands of children participated in informal science classes at the Academy’s museum of Science and Natural History in Oak Knoll Park in Clayton, Missouri. The Academy also helped lead the campaign to build the internationally recognized St. Louis Science Center.
Today, the Academy is actively involved in promoting science and increasing science literacy among students and the general public. More than 600 professional scientists have volunteered through the Academy to speak at elementary and secondary schools, universities, civic and youth organizations and other community groups.
Many also serve as mentors for the over 450 students who are members of the Junior Academy of Science of St. Louis, for students in the sixth through twelfth grades in the St. Louis Area.