Surveying American Mineral Resources in the Early 1880s

In the nineteenth century, the U.S. Census not only tracked population growth, but also gathered vital statistics about the nation’s economic life. For the Tenth U.S. Census (1880), special agents were employed to collect data on iron and steel manufacture, coal mining, petroleum drilling and refining, and other industries. As a surveyor with the United States Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.), founded in 1879, Bayard Taylor Putnam (1854-1886) compiled mining statistics for the 1880 Census. His work is documented in correspondence and field notes in the Bayard Taylor Putnam Family Papers, 1870–1934 (C1463), a recent addition to the Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. 

Bayard Taylor Putnam was the son of George Palmer Putnam (1814–1872), founder of the publishing firm G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and Victorine Haven Putnam (1824-1891). Bayard Taylor Putnam decided not to go into the family’s New York publishing business, and instead became a geological surveyor for the U.S.G.S. Division of Mining Geology. Putnam worked under Raphael Pumpelly (1837–1923), the division chief appointed Special Agent of the Census Office in charge of gathering coal mining statistics.

As Expert Special Agent for the 1880 Census, Putnam was sent to several parts of the country, including Michigan, northern New Jersey, Kentucky, and the Far West to survey iron and coal mining. Around 1881, he became involved with the Northern Pacific Railroad’s Northern Transcontinental Survey. Organized by Pumpelly, this survey (parts of which were also included in the 1880 Census) collected information on the topography and economy of the Dakotas, Montana, and Washington territories in order to identify mineral resources near the railroad lines.

Letters relating to Putnam’s survey work are primarily those from Pumpelly that were sent while Putnam was out in the field. Three volumes contain detailed geological and mineralogical field notes, as well as sketches of maps, mines, plats, plans, and cross sections, document his work in Michigan and northern New Jersey (including the surrounding areas of New York and Pennsylvania) as well as his time surveying mines in Montana for the Northern Transcontinental Survey.

The Bayard Taylor Putnam Family Papers also relate to the patented chart holder that Putnam invented for sailing and contain correspondence by several family members, particularly his wife, Grace Sanderson Thacher Putnam (1855–1900). Most of the letters to Grace, which date from the time of Bayard’s death in 1886 until Grace’s own death fourteen years later, are those she received from her close friend, Bishop Henry Codman Potter, who was the seventh Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Letters relating to Bayard’s daughter, Mary Putnam, are of particular interest as they document a contentious period within the history of the Putnam family and G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Discussing the family’s stock in and ownership of the publishing company, the correspondence relates to the recent merger of G.P. Putnam’s Sons with Minton, Balch & Co., (1930) whereupon the owners of the latter became the majority stockholders.

For more about the Bayard Taylor Putnam Family Papers, contact Researchers interested in learning more about G.P. Putnam’s Sons can access the George Palmer Putnam Papers (C0685) and George Haven Putnam Papers (C1350), which are also part of the Manuscripts Division.Putnam letter

Raphael Pumpelly, Letter to Bayard Taylor Putnam concerning New Jersey mining, February, 16, 1880.