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At the opening of the nineteenth century, almost none of the sciences were taught in educational institutions. A point of great importance to the early development of geology was the appointment of Benjamin Silliman as professor of chemistry and natural science at Yale College in 1802. Silliman’s students initiated a number of state geological surveys in the 1820s and 1830s, starting with North Carolina in 1823, which made major contributions to geological understanding, principles, and applications. There are now 51 state geological surveys—including Puerto Rico—each with staffs ranging from a single “State Geologist” to over 200 people. Of the original state surveys only the California survey, founded in 1880, has survived to the present day with continuous funding. Alabama, Alaska, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas maintain their positions as the largest of the state surveys. The U.S. Geological Survey, which does work in all states and in foreign territory, was founded in 1879.

From their beginnings, through the 1950s, state activities were strongly oriented to mineral-resources studies, geologic mapping, and public information. The 1960s saw the burgeoning of concerns for the “environmental” (and engineering) applications of geology.

The decade of the 1970s witnessed greatly-increased emphasis on engineering and environmental geology, especially investigations of “geologic hazards”; development of mineral resources, with due regard to the disposal of wastes, and other environmental concerns; and a renewed consciousness of the importance of public and political participation. Budgets and personnel of the state surveys approximately doubled during the decade. This trend has continued into the '80s, but, lately, growth has been somewhat inhibited by budget restrictions and inflation.

The state geological surveys are economically and politically responsive to state authority and therefore have developed a unique capability to serve directly the geological needs of the public.

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