Transcribed by Teresa Kesterke from: Biographical Review of Des Moines County, Iowa: Containing Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of Many of the Prominent Citizens of To-day and Also of the Past, Hobart Publishing Company, Chicago, 1905.


Brightly emblazoned on the world's roll of famous names is that of Prof. Charles Wachsmuth, who made his home in Burlington for a period of forty years and during that time acquired a high place among the scholars and scientists of the Western hemisphere. He was born Sept. 13, 1829, in the city of Hanover, Germany, of distinguished ancestry, his father being Judge of the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Hanover. Orphaned by the death of his mother when still very young, he received the tenderest care from his remaining parent, who destined him for the profession of law. To his own and his father's great grief, however, he was obliged, at the age of sixteen years, to give up all studies on account of failing health. In 1852 he came to America, being sent to New York as agent for a Hamburg commercial house, but finding the climate of the latter city inimical to his health, he decided to try the West, and came to Burlington, Iowa was then a young and undeveloped State, but he had faith in its future, and here he resided during the greater part of his life.

On first coming to Burlington, Professor Wachsmuth engaged in the grocery business, in which he continued for ten years. In 1855 he was united in marriage to Miss Bernhardine Lorenz, who survives him. Finding that his life in the dry Western country did not afford the desired conditions for improvement in his health, he sought the counsel of a physician, who advised him to spend as much time as possible in the open air, and suggested the collection of fossils as a suitable avocation. He at once adopted the idea, and from that time a new life began for him. That he himself then had no idea how important his achievements would be may be seen from the fact that at first he used a cigar box to contain his collected treasures. This soon gave way to a cabinet which he purchased, and at the end of a year an entire room was required. In later years he built a fireproof house, which now contains the greatest collection of fossil crinoids in the world. The collections attained such dimensions that the celebrated Professor Agassiz, on his lecture tour through the West, came to see it, and commended it highly for its completeness, size, and the care and accuracy displayed in its cataloguing.

In 1865 Professor Wachsmuth closed out his business, and, accompanied by Mrs. Wachsmuth, made a trip to Europe. A year later he returned to Burlington, resolved to devote his life to scientific pursuits — mainly to research in connection with crinoid fossils. In 1873 Professor Agassiz paid a second visit to Burlington. He found the collection greatly increased and improved, and expressed the wish to procure it, and that the owner might accompany it and take charge of all crinoids in the Museum of Comparative Zoology in Harvard University. With this Professor Wachsmuth complied, remaining in Cambridge until the death of Professor Agassiz. In 1874 he and Mrs. Wachsmuth made another trip abroad, visiting Europe, Asia, and Africa, returning at the expiration of a year. Having relinquished his title to his collection in favor of the University, he did not own, at the time of returning to this city, a single specimen: but he was soon at work again with his collector's hammer, spending every fine day in the quarries, and it was there that he one day met and became acquainted with Mr. Frank Springer, with whom he formed a friendship that lasted until the death of Professor Wachsmuth. Thereafter they were associated in collecting, and also collaborated in the writing and preparation of their works. A few years later Professor Wachsmuth, with his wife, made a number of collecting trips through Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, bringing home many beautiful specimens; and he was not only fortunate in his quests, but these southern tours resulted in much benefit to his health, and he counted the time thus spent as among the happiest days of his life. In 1879 Professor Wachsmuth and Mr. Springer published the first part of "Revision of Palaeocrinoidea;" and after having finished the latter part in the fall of 1886, he began the preparation of his greatest work, "The North American Crinoida Camerata," at which he labored continuously for seven years, without interruption except from illness, which was all too frequent. That he did not live to see the publication of this monumental work is one of the most profound regrets of all his friends. The last years of his life were a time of great bodily suffering, one attack of illness succeeding another, but that for which he himself most grieved was the failure of his sight, which, of course, interfered seriously with his work. During all his sufferings, however, he remained cheerful, and never uttered a word of complaint. He passed away on the seventh day of February, 1896, and was interred in Aspen Grove cemetery, where his last resting place is marked by a plain stone, on which his name is graven.

Professor Wachsmuth was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of the Geological Society of America, of the Iowa Academy of Science, of the Imperial Society of Natural Sciences of Moscow, and corresponding member of the Philadelphia Academy of Science. He was a man of great mental powers, possessed of a high and unselfish enthusiasm for his work, and by the admirable traits of his character won the regard and respect of all.

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