Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Illinois Natural History Survey is 140 Years Old

On June 30, 1998, the Illinois Natural History Survey became 140 years old. With a staff of 370 and an average of 120 scientific publications each year, the Survey is the largest and most successful of the state biological surveys in this country.

The foundation for what would become the Illinois Natural History Survey was laid by Cyrus Thomas, a lawyer, teacher, and self-taught entomologist from Jackson County. In a December 1857 meeting of the State Teachers' Association in Decatur, Thomas proposed that a Natural History Society of Illinois be formed. On June 30, 1858, the Natural History Society, parent organization of the Illinois Natural History Survey, was officially organized at Illinois State Normal University in Bloomington (now Illinois State University at Normal). The Natural History Society was legally chartered by the state legislature on February 22, 1861. In the original charter, the Society was given the dual purpose of preparing "a scientific survey of the State of Illinois in all the departments of natural history" and of establishing a museum of natural history at Illinois State Normal University.

Original building of Illinois State University at Normal where the Illinois Natural History Survey was founded and housed until 1884.

In 1877, the General Assembly established a Natural History Museum at Springfield, and the Natural History Society Museum at Illinois State Normal University was renamed the State Laboratory of Natural History. The act that established the State Laboratory of Natural History enabled the institution to concentrate on research rather than on museum exhibits. Stephen A. Forbes, who had been appointed curator of the museum in 1872, was named director of the new State Laboratory of Natural History in 1877. In 1882, Forbes took on additional duties when he succeeded Cyrus Thomas as state entomologist.

In 1885, Forbes moved from Illinois State Normal University to the Illinois Industrial University at Urbana, which that same year was renamed the University of Illinois. With the approval of the state legislature, Forbes transferred the State Laboratory of Natural History and its staff, library, and research collections, which by that time were quite large, with him to Urbana.

In 1917, the research functions of the State Laboratory of Natural History and those of the Office of the State Entomologist were consolidated under the name Illinois Natural History Survey with Forbes as its first chief. The new Survey was incorporated into the Department of Registration and Education with the other two state scientific surveys, the State Geological Survey and the State Water Survey. Also in 1917 the Board of Natural Resources and Conservation was created as the governing board of the scientific surveys.

In 1940 the Illinois Natural History Survey moved into laboratories and offices in the Natural Resources Building (NRB), its current location. In 1950 wings were added to the east and west ends of NRB which almost doubled the available space. Laboratories and offices at the Natural Resources Studies Annex (located south of campus at UIUC) were completed in 1972. 


Stephen A. Forbes, Civil War veteran and first chief of the Illinois Natural History Survey.

The Natural Resources Building complex at UIUC, site of the current headquarters of the Illinois Natural History Survey.

The first INHS field station was established by Stephen Forbes at Havana in 1894, and today it is known as the Forbes Biological Station. Other INHS biological stations include the Ridge Lake Station near Charleston, Sam Parr Biological Station in Kinmundy, Kaskaskia Biological Station at Sullivan, the Grasslands Wildlife Research Laboratory at Effingham, the Great Rivers Field Station in Alton, the Long-term Resources Monitoring Station (La Grange Reach) at Havana, and the Lake Michigan Biological Station at Zion. INHS has recently located field staff at two more research areas in the state--the Savanna Army Depot near Galena and the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Will County.

Locations of research field stations of the Illinois Natural History Survey.

Stephen Forbes recognized the value of educating the public at every level about the contributions of the state's scientific agencies through publications and public relations activities. While he maintained close ties with the University of Illinois, he also recognized that Illinois was fortunate "to have a group of vigorous and imaginative `statesmen' of science at the surveys, who played an important role in avoiding the narrow academicism of pure research and emphasizing the importance of public function of state-supported science." Maintaining a balance among our various roles to carry out a strong scientific research program, assisting in the education of students, and communicating the results of our studies to the public remain challenges for INHS to this day.

In 1978, the three scientific surveys in Champaign- Urbana and the Illinois State Museum in Springfield were transferred from the Department of Registration and Education to the newly created Institute of Natural Resources, which in 1981 was raised to departmental status and named the Department of Energy and Natural Resources. In 1996, the scientific surveys and the Illinois Waste Management and Research Center were transferred to the newly created Department of Natural Resources, and along with the Illinois State Museum, make up the state Office of Scientific Research and Analysis. The Illinois State General Assembly in Springfield recently appropriated funds for INHS to begin Phase I planning and construction for a new research facility at UIUC.

Lawrence M. Page, Center for Biodiversity, and David L. Thomas, Chief, Illinois Natural History Survey

Illinois Natural History Survey

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Champaign, IL 61820

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