Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.
Oil-on-canvas portrait of Samuel Stehman Haldeman in his later years by Samuel Bell Waugh (1815–85). ANSP Archives Collection 2011-069

Oil-on-canvas portrait of Samuel Stehman Haldeman in his later years by Samuel Bell Waugh (1815–85).
ANSP Archives Collection 2011-069

Samuel Stehman Haldeman was a pioneer in American science with an uncompromising empirical bent who made definitive contributions in geology, metallurgy, zoology and the scientific study of language. His groundbreaking lifework touched nearly seven decades of science and included identification of one of the oldest fossils in Pennsylvania, elucidation of a plan for an anthracite coal furnace for smelting iron ore, the first descriptions of American beetles in the United States, one of the earliest monographs on American univalve mollusks, and some of the first treatises on linguistics to appear in the country. Equally important, Haldeman was an institutional organizer who enhanced America’s visibility and connection to international science. The interests, passions and discoveries of this little-known Pennsylvania polymath highlight the major themes and impulses of 19th-century American science and the growth of its reputation within the world’s scientific community.


Early Years

Born on August 12, 1812, near Bainbridge in Lancaster County, he was the first child of Henry and Frances (née Stehman) Haldeman, who resided in a mansion at Locust Grove overlooking the Susquehanna River, 20 miles southeast of the new state capital of Harrisburg. Henry, the patriarch of a wealthy iron baron family, built one of the early Pennsylvania blast furnaces designed to burn anthracite coal. He was a doting father with a large personal library, proud of Samuel’s scholarly inclinations. He nurtured the boy’s early scientific activities.

Young Samuel explored the nearby woods and banks of the Susquehanna River, observing and collecting numerous specimens. With these he created a small natural history museum in the loft of the family’s carriage house, complete with freshwater shells, skeletons of small mammals, Indian arrowheads, and prehistoric stone implements. Samuel’s mother, an accomplished musician who would die when Samuel was only 12, trained his ear, preparing him for his phonological investigations later in his career.

In 1812 Samuel Haldeman was born in Bainbridge in this mansion, the home of his grandparents, John and Maria Haldeman. Photo, PHMC

In 1812 Samuel Haldeman was born in Bainbridge in this mansion, the home of his grandparents, John and Maria Haldeman.
Photo, PHMC

Samuel attended local schools until the age of 14, when his father enrolled him at Dr. John Keagy’s Classical Academy in Harrisburg. Here he studied for two years alongside fellow student and future Pennsylvania governor Andrew Gregg Curtin. In addition to classical languages, Keagy taught French and German and probably some science as well. Samuel was not fond of literature, history or poetry, as his colleague J. Peter Lesley (1819–1909) noted, but the “infinity of living things” around him piqued his curiosity.

In 1828 Haldeman, now 17, matriculated at Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Cumberland County, where his love of science was nurtured by geologist and chemistry professor Henry Darwin Rogers (1808–66). The adolescent Haldeman, however, eventually grew impatient with the routine of college life. Although he maintained a good academic standing, he left Dickinson after only two years. He was intent on pursuing independent studies to explore the world and make his own discoveries. In her 1953 book The Making of a Scientist, psychologist Anne Roe maintains that “it is the discovery that . . . [one] can himself do research” and learn in the process that is the single most important factor in the decision to become a scientist. This was undoubtedly the case for Haldeman.

After leaving school, Haldeman bowed to local expectations that a young man without a profession must enter business. He worked sporadically, running his father’s sawmill, but found business even more tedious than college. Daniel Garrison Brinton (1837–99), a fellow member of the American Philosophical Society, recalled that Haldeman “developed a taste for rainy weather and impassable roads,” so he could study undisturbed in the back office.

Although his father suggested he study law, Samuel’s interest was in natural science. To this end, in the winter of 1833–34, he attended lectures at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, but with no intention of becoming a physician. In 1835 he married Mary A. Hough of Bainbridge, and the couple moved into a spacious new mansion at Chickies in Lancaster County. Haldeman named it “Chicquesalunga.” He eventually became a silent partner with his brothers Edwin and Paris in the family iron business. Their ironworks became so successful that its blast furnaces operated continuously for nearly half a century.


First Geological Survey, Early Research and Innovations in Iron Smelting

In his 20s, Haldeman discovered the 500-million-year-old trace fossil Skolithos linearis near his home in Marietta. The small lines on the sandstone are the burrows of an ancient worm. Fossil, Haldeman Mansion Preservation Society Inc. / Photo, PHMC

In his 20s, Haldeman discovered the 500-million-year-old trace fossil Skolithos linearis near his home in Marietta. The small lines on the sandstone are the burrows of an ancient worm.
Fossil, Haldeman Mansion Preservation Society Inc. /
Photo, PHMC

Haldeman got his first scientific assignment in 1836 as an assistant on the New Jersey State Geological Survey. He was hired by Rogers, who administered the surveys of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In the spring of 1837 Haldeman transferred to the Pennsylvania Geological Survey as one of four assistants to Rogers. One of the survey’s principal discoveries was a stratum of sandstone in central Pennsylvania underlying the great limestone valleys. Rogers and his assistants determined that the midstate’s sandstone layer stretched under the Susquehanna River, forming a single crested mountain of sandstone. J. Peter Lesley, who later became an assistant on the First Geological Survey of Pennsylvania and headed the Second Geological Survey, described Haldeman’s contribution as surveying the middle Susquehanna region. Haldeman remained with the survey for five seasons, completing the sections on Dauphin and Lancaster counties for the annual reports. He conducted fieldwork in the summers and spent his winters in Philadelphia preparing detailed reports, including the geological maps and illustrations necessary for understanding the descriptions. He also wrote progress reports, due on the first day of each month, and appears to have cataloged specimens.

During this work Haldeman made his first major zoological discovery. In the white sandstone formation behind his mansion he discovered a fossil, Skolithos linearis, from the early Cambrian period of 500 million years ago. He described it tersely in 1840 as “stem simple (never branched), rectilinear . . . Diam. 1/8 to 1/4 in., length several feet.” This trace fossil, as opposed to a body fossil, provided evidence of the organism’s burrowing activity rather than the remnants of the creature itself. Haldeman declared it “the oldest fossil in the state, occurring in the first stratified rock above the Gneiss.”

In the early 1840s Haldeman launched a successful career as a scientific researcher with numerous publications in fields ranging from zoology to metallurgy. His wide interests, insatiable curiosity and unremitting labors had him working sometimes 16 hours a day and produced a veritable torrent of published research. His works appeared in some of the most prestigious American scientific journals of the era, and his scholarly output during the first decade of his career was so prodigious that Harvard naturalist Louis Agassiz counted 73 Haldeman publications in his 1852 Bibliographia Zoologiae et Geologicae.

What circumstances facilitated Haldeman’s incredible productivity? First, as a silent partner in the family ironworks, he could rely on his brothers Edwin and Paris to carry on the day-to-day operations of the firm. This allowed him to focus on research while sharing in the financial benefits of the business. Second, he began to enlarge his network of scientific collaborators and affiliations with scholarly associations.

Haldeman, accomplished in geology, metallurgy, zoology and linguistics, published more than 200 volumes before his death in 1880. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

The Haldeman family’s ironworks operated from 1845 to 1900. Chickies Furnace Number 2, pictured here, was built in 1854 at Chickies Creek in Lancaster County.
Courtesy of LancasterHistory, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Although not involved in the daily activities of the family iron business, Haldeman brought his scientific and technical ingenuity to bear on the firm’s metallurgical processes. In 1848 he published two articles in the American Journal of Science and Arts (“Silliman’s Journal”) on smelting iron with anthracite coal. The second article contained detailed descriptions and illustrations of the design of the new Chikiswalungo anthracite furnace that used a 40 horsepower steam engine to deliver a hot blast of “waste heat.” During the combustion, liquid iron accumulated in the hearth, while impurities reacted with the limestone covering the ore to form slag that floated to the top. Haldeman described how heavy iron plates in front of the hearth above the cinder run were raised to allow the slag to flow off several times a day. Every 12 hours the molten iron was tapped — probably into sand molds on the furnace floor to cool as pigs. The process and the design were typical of the furnace introduced by the Lehigh Crane Co. of Wales in 1840. What was novel was the description published by Haldeman, which appeared nowhere else. His description likely helped to disseminate the process elsewhere in the United States. Seven years later Haldeman edited and updated the second edition of Richard Taylor’s Statistics on Coal, drawing from the reports of the various state geological surveys.


Zoological Research and Associations

Haldeman’s scientific network initially encompassed only central and southeastern Pennsylvania. Beginning with Dickinson geologist Rogers, Haldeman soon added a younger, more influential contact, fellow Dickinson student and later faculty member Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823–87). Baird had wide zoological interests and went on to become the first curator of the Smithsonian Institution and permanent secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Consequently, he was in a position to promote Haldeman’s research. In 1839 Haldeman began to present papers at meetings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. By 1842 he was teaching a course of public lectures on zoology at the Franklin Institute. Haldeman expanded his network considerably in 1844, when he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society.

Samuel Haldeman, the young scientific researcher. Courtesy of LancasterHistory, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Samuel Haldeman, the young scientific researcher.
Courtesy of LancasterHistory, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Haldeman, whose primary zoological interest was invertebrates, established his reputation in the field of malacology, the study of mollusks, with A Monograph of the Freshwater Univalve Mollusca of the United States, published in Philadelphia between 1840 and 1845. Here he provided detailed descriptions of numerous species of gastropods – primarily snails – from several freshwater families. His 1844 article in the Boston Journal of Natural History, “Enumeration of Recent Freshwater Mollusca Common to Europe and America,” caught the attention of British naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–82). Haldeman questioned the nature of species and the role of the environment in their modification and distribution, speculating for example how the Melania species of freshwater snail might adapt in a stream gradually infused with saline from a nearby salt lake. These comments so impressed Darwin that 17 years later he mentioned Haldeman in the preface to the third edition of the On the Origin of Species (1861).

Despite Haldeman’s amazing literary output and intellectual fecundity, his scientific contributions might warrant little notice in the history of American science were it not for his activities in the Entomology Society of Pennsylvania from 1842 to 1853. He shared a keen interest in entomology, the study of insects, with Dr. Frederick Ernst Melsheimer (1782–1873), a physician from Hanover, York County, and the son of America’s first entomologist, Rev. Frederick Valentine Melsheimer (1749–1814). The original membership of the society focused on the Susquehanna Valley in south-central Pennsylvania. According to historian W. Conner Sorensen, Haldeman was the “prime mover” in founding the society, which sought to create “a more formal organization” within the American “entomological fraternity.” Melsheimer was elected president and Haldeman vice president. Society meetings were held several times a year and rotated between members’ homes.

Melsheimer and Rev. John G. Morris of Baltimore were probably the most prominent members of the new society. Melsheimer continued to add specimens and record new species in the catalog of his father’s large insect collection, inherited from his older brother. Morris collected butterfly and moth specimens but also taught natural history at the University of Pennsylvania. Morris probably maintained the widest scientific network and reported the society’s endeavors to the American Journal of Science and the Smithsonian Institution.

From its inception, the primary interest of the Entomology Society of Pennsylvania was in systematics, or classification and nomenclature. The common practice had been to send unnamed, undescribed insect specimens to Europe for identification. Like the late Thomas Say (1787–1834), author of the groundbreaking three-volume American Entomology (1824–28), the members of the society realized that to establish the prerogative of Americans to name and describe native insects, they needed a publishing platform to quickly disseminate new names and descriptions. One of their specific goals was to publish authoritative guides for insect identification. This was an important milestone in the professionalization of American entomology, transforming what was previously a gentleman’s pastime into a scientific discipline. A prospective monograph with the greatest potential was a catalog of American beetles, based upon Melsheimer’s extensive Coleoptera collection. Descriptions made after Say’s death would be published immediately in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences as communications from the society. Subsequently, the society arranged for Haldeman and John Lawrence LeConte (1825–83) to edit the Melsheimer catalog as a rigorous scientific monograph, Catalogue of the Described Coleoptera of the United States, which was published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1853. Although it was the last gasp of the Entomology Society of Pennsylvania, which disappeared soon afterward, the publication represented Haldeman’s primary contribution to entomology and was a milestone in the institutionalization of American science.


The Scientific Study of Language

Starting in the 1840s Haldeman began to shift his focus from the natural sciences to linguistics, the scientific study of language. Was his new interest in sounds merely the latest fad for his shifting curiosity? Not according to colleagues and family who knew his work. Lesley discloses that the “world of sounds” and words had always fascinated Haldeman. Unlike most philologists, students of the structure and history of language, who at the time entered the field through the “gate of written literature,” Haldeman entered through the door of “organic sound.” Another factor was physical necessity. In an 1898 memoir, Haldeman’s nephew Horace reveals that his uncle’s constant use of the microscope in his zoological studies had weakened “his eyesight . . . forcing his abandonment of this line of investigation.” Afterwards, as Lesley explains, Haldeman’s “ear being born master of the eye,” he was fated to become a philologist. His empirical approach to language study distinguished him as a seminal researcher in the field. Indeed, he considered his contributions to language studies — some 30 books in all — his “greatest triumphs.” Ironically, these contributions were not his most enduring, because they were eclipsed by revolutionary developments in language studies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the phonology of Jan Baudouin de Courtenay and the lectures of Ferdinand de Saussure presented in Course in General Linguistics (1916).

Haldeman's home Chicquesalunga at Chickies in Lancaster County. Haldeman Mansion Preservation Society Inc.

Haldeman’s home Chicquesalunga at Chickies in Lancaster County.
Haldeman Mansion Preservation Society Inc.

During the later 1840s Haldeman published several varied works on language and sounds — some practical, some more theoretical. In June 1846 he wrote a short treatise on phonology, the study of sounds in language, and included examples of vowels, which are frictionless sounds, and many varieties of consonants: those that are voiced or cut off (sonants) and those articulated by the lips (labials), teeth and tongue (dentals), the roof of the mouth (palatials), and the throat (gutturals).

In the 1850s Haldeman undertook a series of careful, detailed comparative language studies based upon his analysis of articulate sounds. The first was a seemingly practical work, the Elements of Latin Pronunciation (1851). In a preliminary section he declared that “pronunciation is the basis of philology, and without a knowledge of it . . . little progress can be made in this science.” Although this statement demonstrates his conviction of the primacy of sounds and vocalization for understanding language, it reveals little else. Also, there is scant evidence of the work’s enduring value as a language reference.

Haldeman published other short monographs on comparative philology between 1853 and 1856. These works likely earned him national recognition in the field of phonology, as he was called upon by the Smithsonian Institution to give lectures about his research on the mechanism of speech, which were subsequently published in their annual report.

According to nephew Horace Haldeman, his uncle Samuel was one of the earliest American advocates of English spelling reform. As early as 1851 he was elected to the American Phonetic Council and was later appointed to a committee of the American Philological Society to consider the matter. He believed that a phonetic alphabet ought to be “cosmopolitan.” Music, he argued, has a notation that is uniform around the world. Why not a universal written standard for language and literature?

Haldeman’s most influential midcentury contribution to language study was the Analytic Orthography: An Investigation of the Sounds of the Voice and Their Alphabetic Notation (1860). The work grew out of his award-winning essay “On a Reform in the Spelling of the English Language.” Haldeman’s essay won the Trevelyan Prize of the Phonetic Society of Great Britain. Reluctant to propose a phonetic alphabet of his own, Haldeman laid down “canons” of notation for a true phonetic orthography, or system of spelling. Among them were the following principles: every “simple sound” should be represented by a single letter and “no letter should represent more than one sound.” Sounds produced by “one contact” of the speech organs should not be signified by a letter representing a sound made by a different contact. Finally, the Latin alphabet should serve as the basis for alphabetical notation, and only when “a sound unknown to Latin” arises, should a “new or modified character” be provided. Although the work is largely forgotten today, it placed Haldeman in the vanguard of proponents of an International Phonetic Alphabet that included the English linguist Alexander John Ellis and French linguist Paul Passy. Unlike his English and French colleagues, Haldeman did not live to see the fruition of this project.

Among Haldeman’s most accessible publications on language was Affixes in Their Origin and Application, Exhibiting the Etymologic Structure of English Words (1865). He explained that affixes, whether prefixes or suffixes, attach to nouns and verbs, which are “primitives” or root words. The resulting compounds account for the “greater part” of English vocabulary. Haldeman justified the work on the basis that “most of the new words . . . are old forms with commoner affixes.” A writer in the Contemporary Review declared that the small “octavo volume [contained] a collection more rational, complete and exhaustive of the component parts of our language than . . . we have any . . . right to hope for within the present century.”

Haldeman and Francis A. March of Lafayette College in Easton were officers of the Spelling Reform Association. This letter from President March to Vice President Haldeman includes some words written in the association’s preferred form. Samuel Stehman Haldeman Papers, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania

Haldeman and Francis A. March of Lafayette College in Easton were officers of the Spelling Reform Association. This letter from President March to Vice President Haldeman includes some words written in the association’s preferred form.
Samuel Stehman Haldeman Papers, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania

Besides Haldeman’s scholarly tomes on spelling and speech sounds, he found time to write shorter works of broader interest to Pennsylvania lay readers. One of the most interesting, if not useful, essays is Pennsylvania Dutch: A Dialect of South German with an Infusion of English (1872). This brief work grew out of a paper Haldeman prepared for the Philological Society of London at the request of Alexander Ellis. Haldeman piqued Ellis’s curiosity about Pennsylvania Dutch, because the German dialect was a “living example of a mixture of languages.” His essay describes the history, location, phonology, gender, syntax and vocabulary of Pennsylvania Dutch, as well as the infusion of English into the language. He also includes chapters with comparisons of related German dialects, such as Swiss, Bavarian, Swabian, Alsatian and South German. Haldeman, who had learned Pennsylvania Dutch in his youth, justified the confidence of Ellis and the Philological Society by packing numerous illustrative examples from this often quirky and incongruous dialect into a mere 69 pages.

From 1869 until his death Haldeman held the first chair of comparative philology at the University of Pennsylvania. Comparative philology — later called comparative linguistics — was a branch of historical linguistics, the scientific study of language change over time. No doubt Haldeman conferred closely with F. A. March, professor of English language and comparative philology at Lafayette College, often considered the principal founder of modern comparative linguistics. Comparative philology aimed to establish the historical relationships between languages, to establish language families, and endeavor to reconstruct “proto-languages.” Not unlike Haldeman, March was a philologist, lexicographer and polymath.

Haldeman and March shared a passion for the reform of English spelling. In a January 20, 1875, letter to Haldeman, March asked, “Can’t we do something for English Spelling?” For teachers and linguists of the late 19th century, the issue had profound implications for education, economics and society. Haldeman played his most prominent role in the 1876 International Convention in Behalf of the Amendment of English Orthografy in Philadelphia over which he presided. Several years later in April 1878, March recommended Haldeman for a seat on the Pennsylvania Commission on Spelling Reform, proposed by the legislature. For one reason or another, Haldeman played no official role on the commission. But, as in the formation of the International Phonetic Alphabet, he played a critical role in the discussion. The commission recommended “State action” to regulate English spelling, making it simpler and uniform. The benefits envisioned included practical results such as efficiency, cost-savings and improvements in student learning. The advantages seemed so compelling that President Theodore Roosevelt championed the simpler, clearer spellings recommended by the American Simplified Spelling Board in 1906.


Haldeman, accomplished in geology, metallurgy, zoology and linguistics, published more than 200 volumes before his death in 1880.
Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

Death and Influence

In the last two years of his life, the ever-curious Haldeman occupied himself with the archaeology of Native Americans and other aboriginal peoples. His nephew Horace says it was spurred in part by his physician’s directive that Haldeman get more exercise outdoors. More likely, these activities represented one of his lifelong interests. Haldeman’s agent Amos Gottschall, in his Travels from Ocean to Ocean (1881), testified to his patron’s “untiring zeal in collecting the antiquities of North American Indians.”

Early in the autumn of 1880, just a few months after presenting a paper on aboriginal pottery to the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference, Haldeman succumbed to a heart attack at his home in Chickies. He died, much as he had lived — always busy, curious, and seemingly tireless.

The influence of Samuel Stehman Haldeman is not easily measured; yet, his contributions in the natural sciences of geology, metallurgy, malacology and entomology and the human sciences of linguistics, education and anthropology were vast and far-reaching. Most significantly, Haldeman’s accomplishments as a researcher and scholar garnered an enhanced respect for American science, helping to advance the nation’s status in the world’s scientific community.


For More Information

Although few biographical works on Samuel Haldeman have been published, there is an abundance of archival resources available in Pennsylvania. LancasterHistory in Lancaster holds the S.S. Haldeman Papers (MG-344), containing newspaper articles, biographical information, some of Haldeman’s published works, and original copies of the Pennsylvania Farm Journal, which he edited. Also at LancasterHistory is the Haldeman Family Papers and Business Records (MG-736), including correspondence between Haldeman and other family members, shedding light on his collecting interests and travels in Europe.

An extensive collection of Haldeman’s professional correspondence, related to his teaching and research in natural history and philology, 1840-1880, resides at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center in Philadelphia (Ms. Coll. 974). This collection includes letters with notable correspondents such as Francis March, Richard Owen and Noah Webster.

A small but significant collection of letters is held by the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia (Mss. B. H129). The earliest letters are written to fellow entomologist John Lawrence Le Conte. The largest number are addressed to the naturalist, photographer and lecturer Stephen James Sedgwick, and they document the shift in Haldeman’s interests from natural history to philology. APS also owns original editions of Haldeman’s published pamphlets and books.

The largest cache of Haldeman papers is located in the archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia (Collection 73). This broad-ranging collection contains 726 items and includes letters to and from Haldeman on subjects ranging from conchology and entomology to Native American artifacts and spelling reform.

The birthplace of Samuel Stehman Haldeman, the Haldeman Mansion, is located at 230 Locust Grove Road in Bainbridge, Lancaster County. The Haldeman Mansion Preservation Society Inc. is dedicated to restoring and preserving the Haldeman Mansion and grounds as a place to foster the community’s appreciation of local history. For information on tours and special events, visit haldeman-mansion.org.


Iren Light Snavely Jr. has worked as a librarian at the State Library of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg and a project archivist at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. His previous contributions to Pennsylvania Heritage include “Thomas Say: Pennsylvania Entomologist” (Spring 2016) and “Biographer of the Feathered Tribes: Alexander Wilson and American Ornithology” (Winter 2015).