Copyright 2003 By Bob Hibbs
 April 5,  2003 

 Saturday Postcard 188: Early University Genius

weather station
  In what may be the oldest recorded image of North Hall, this third University of Iowa building appears nearing completion just 70 feet north of Old Capitol.  It housed science classrooms and laboratories of an early University of Iowa genius who went stark raving mad. The image probably was recorded by Isaac Wetherby in early 1866. 
It is now in the Hibbs collection
 In 1875 UI Prof. Gustavus Hinrichs established the Iowa weather reporting service. He incorporated local data from his private weather station atop his home on the southeast corner of Capitol and Market streets. This depiction of the home appears in an 1883 Johnson County history.


Gustav Hinrichs

Brilliant science teaching during its nascent years provided the historic basis of the modern University of Iowa replete with nationally-recognized professional colleges. The leader of that early effort in science was a German-born genius named Gustavus Hinrichs,  who joined the UI faculty as an energetic 24-year-old Copenhagen-trained scientist in 1862, just two years after the university had been opened for good. His year-long physical science classes which included laboratory work were required fare for all sub-freshmen and freshmen during the 1860s and '70s.

Prof. Hinrichs was considered an authority in physics, chemistry and mineralogy. He sufficiently impressed a fiscally-
conservative rural-oriented Iowa legislature that it funded construction of North Hall to house his classes and 
laboratories. The 61-by-90-foot building was completed in 1866 just 70 feet from Old Capitol. Its third level served 
as a combined chapel and library, while Hinrichs occupied the basement and main levels. In his 1988 history of UI, 
John Gerber reports that Hinrichs' rules for what the student newspaper the University Reporter termed his "temple
of science" were: "Be Quiet, Be Careful, Be Certain." 

Hinrichs developed a national reputation with the North Hall design and its state-of-the-art laboratories where he 
expected students to examine specimens for what they could teach. This came during an age where most teaching 
was done verbally with little "hands on" experience for students. His interests were broad and varied, including 
weather. He established the Iowa weather reporting service in 1875 from his home on the southeast corner of 
Capitol and Market streets, just a little more than a block north of his workplace on Pentacrest. He remained a 
highly influential force on the UI faculty until he was fired in March 1886 after fits of paranoia resulted in verbal attacks 
on virtually every other UI leader and the governing board. 

As a former faculty member, his contrived written attacks continued through much of the rest of his long life which 
ended in 1923. Hinrichs, along with UI faculty member and interim president Nathan Leonard (1832-1917) who 
taught mathematics and astronomy, formed a first-generation core faculty in the sciences which helped foment 
subsequent formation of the medical department in 1870, dentistry in 1882, pharmacy in 1885 and nursing in 1894. 

Together with law, engineering and business, these colleges now graduate more professionals than many larger 
state universities, including giant Michigan which hired away former UI president Mary Sue Coleman a year ago. 

Hinrichs replaced Theodore Parvin (1817-1901) who had ineptly attempted to establish a science program at UI, 
but suffered the handicap of legal as opposed to science training and eventually taught history. Parvin, who journeyed to Iowa with newly-appointed territorial governor Robert Lucas, was dismissed from UI in 1870. Parvin kept detailed journals through his long life which provide many useful insights to events despite seeming highly self-serving in viewpoint. He was neither admired nor respected by colleagues, who described him as vain, arrogant and mischievous. 

Hinrichs and Leonard were succeeded at UI by such second-generation science giants as botanist and 
"man-of-all-seasons" Thomas Macbride (1848-1934), geologist and distinguished scholar Samuel Calvin (1840-1912), as well as botanist and engineer Bohumil Shimek (1861-1937).  The next generation giants included psychologist Carl Seashore (1866-1949) and physician Arthur Steindler (1878-1959).  But, these world-class scientists represent only the right hemisphere of historic superstars at UI. 

The left portion of UI's cerebral cortex is occupied by the likes of Grant Wood, Edward Mabie, Philip Clapp, 
Frank Luther Mott, Paul Engle and others who have earned the national limelight for UI as a distinguished teacher of 
fine arts.  All these University of Iowa faculty members have left lasting marks on their chosen professions.  Of course, they were assisted along the way by some first-rate administrators and able support staffs.  As a team, they have built a reputation for UI which former president Bill Clinton recently described to a Carver-Hawkeye Arena audience of 15,000 as a "world class university."

Next Saturday: Retrieving "The Little Dutch Hall" from visual obscurity.

Bob Hibbs collects local postcards and researches history related to them.

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