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Lewis Caleb Beck

Early American geologist, botanist, mineralogist and professor Lewis C. Beck was born in Schenectady, New York on October 4, 1798. He was trained as a physician, graduating from Union College in 1817, and studied medicine and practiced in Schenectady from 1818 to 1819; and was the earliest botanist to live in Missouri, having set up a practice in St. Louis toward the end of 1819. During 1820, he botanized extensively in both eastern Missouri and adjacent Illinois before returning to New York, and eventually published a gazetteer of the mineral and vegetable riches of the two states in 1823. He was appointed Professor of Botany and Chemistry at the Vermont Academy of Medicine, 1826-1832. He soon focused his career on mineralogy and geology, however, and was appointed Professor of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy at Rutgers College in 1830 (a position held until his death in 1853); Van Nest Hall on the Rutgers campus was completed in 1848 and became the home of Beck's geological/mineralogical museum and chemical laboratory. Today Beck Hall on the campus carries his name. He was also Professor of Chemistry and Pharmacy at Albany Medical College from 1841 to 1853.

In 1837, New York Governor William Marcy appointed Beck Mineralogist of the Geological Survey of New York. Over the next few years Beck visited most of the important mineral localities in the state. He collected, in his words, "many suites of specimens for the General Cabinet...and devoted the rest of my time to arranging the materials collected, and to the analysis of such rare and useful products as seemed worthy of particular examination." Beck was, without benefit of title, the first curator of mineralogy of what was to become the New York State Museum. His mineral collection (3,000 specimens, cataloged by DeWitt Reiley, Abraham Thompson, John Drury and Abraham Mattice in 1858 and described by Valiant in 1900), and those of his colleagues working on the Survey of New York, provided the foundation for the State Cabinet of Natural History, later to become the New York State Museum.

Beck published his pioneering research as The Mineralogy of New York in 1842, and coauthored Catalogue of the cabinet of natural history of the state of New York, and of the historical and antiquarian collection annexed thereto (1853). In addition he wrote A Manual of Chemistry (1831) and was a co-inventor of a mechanical chemistry device, a sort of sliding wooden chart, which is inscribed: "Improved Scale of Chemical Equivalents By Lewis C. Beck and Joseph Henry, Albany 1828, Second Edition." Lewis Beck died April 20, 1853.

VALIANT, W.S. (1900) The Lewis C.Beck mineral collection. The Mineral Collector, 7, 20-21, 37-40.
Catalogue of Building and Place Names at Rutgers
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
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The Mineralogical Record - Lewis Caleb Beck 50 x 62 mm,
Original label in Beck's hand.
The Mineralogical Record - Lewis Caleb Beck 65 x 60 mm,
Rutgers label for the previous specimen.
The Mineralogical Record - Lewis Caleb Beck 31 x 56 mm,
Another label for the same specimen, as above.
The Mineralogical Record - Lewis Caleb Beck 22 x 52 mm
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