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Representative Abram S. Hewitt of New York, photograph by Matthew Brady, ca. 1875

Representative Abram S. Hewitt of New York, an industrialist, sought to exploit the economic value of geological resources. He initiated a request to the National Academy of Sciences for a plan to survey western territories. When the Academy recommended that a new federal agency be established to carry out the work, Hewitt sponsored legislation to create the U.S. Geological Survey.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

What is there in this richly endowed land of ours which may be dug, or gathered, or harvested, and made part of the wealth of America and of the world, and how and where does it lie? . . . It is to the solution of these questions, the greatest of all national problems, that the scientific surveys of the public domain should be directed.

Representative Abram S. Hewitt of New York, Speech to the U.S. House of Representatives, February 11, 1879

Representative Abram S. Hewitt of New York, photograph by Matthew Brady, ca. 1875

The United States Geological Survey

Throughout the nineteenth century, Congress commissioned expeditions to explore and document newly acquired western lands. In 1879 Congress established the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a permanent agency within the Department of the Interior, to provide ongoing documentation of the geology and natural resources in the West and promote the economic development of the region. Today USGS survey publications benefit the scientific community and furnish crucial information to lawmakers tasked with revising public land use policy.