The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Hinrichs, Gustavus Detlef
(December 2, 1836–February 15, 1923)

–meteorologist, mineralogist, geologist, chemist, physicist, and first official head of the Iowa Weather Report Service—was born in Lunden, Holstein. He graduated from the Polytechnic School and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and emigrated to the United States in 1861. Hinrichs moved to Iowa City in 1862 and became instructor of modern languages at the State University of Iowa. The next year he was appointed professor of physics and chemistry. He remained on the faculty until 1886, when he moved to St. Louis and joined the faculty of Washington University. He founded the Hinrichs Laboratories in Mound City, Missouri, a medical compound manufacturing firm. One of its major products was Universal Embalming Fluid, created by Hinrichs and used by funeral directors throughout the United States.

    Hinrichs began his important contributions as the first official head of the Iowa Weather Report Service, an affiliate of the U.S. Weather Bureau. His first observatory was located at Church and Clinton streets in Iowa City, later the location of the University of Iowa president's residence. He had another observatory in the barn at his residence at Capitol and Market streets. During the day, Hinrichs displayed flag signals at his home, which indicated barometer readings and were considered weather predictions by Iowa City residents. That belief was so strong that on one occasion Hinrichs was given credit for controlling spring weather so that local railroad construction could proceed more rapidly.

    Hinrichs made his first observations on October 1, 1875. Although the Iowa legislature passed an act in 1878 creating an official central weather station, they appropriated no funds for construction of a building or for a salary for the director. From time to time small appropriations were made for equipment, but for the most part the Weather Report Service was conducted with Hinrichs's own funds and donations from interested citizens. A local newspaper estimated that Hinrichs himself contributed several thousand dollars.

    As a State University of Iowa professor, Gustavus Hinrichs was noted for his lectures, his laboratory work, and his promotion of Iowa City as the location of the state's medical college and of public funding for it. His public lectures included "The Sun" (printed in its entirety by the local newspapers), "Meteorology," "Man as a Physical Organism," "The Metrical System of Weights and Measures," and "The Distribution of Rainfall of 1878," before such varied audiences as the Iowa State Horticultural Society and the National Academy of Science.

    In a paper published in the American Meteorological Journal in 1888, Hinrichs coined the word "derecho," which became the adopted terminology for thunderstorm-induced straight-line winds as an analog to the word "tornado."

    One of Hinrichs's published books, Atomechanics, first issued in 1867, was ground-breaking for his theories that an analogy existed between astronomy and chemistry, leading to a general principle on the mechanics of atoms. This hypothesis held that the primary matter called pantogens, with its atoms called panatoms, explains the numerical relations of atomic weights and gives a simple classification of the elements.

    His mineralogical theories led to invitations to read papers before the Vienna Academy of Sciences, the French Academy of Science, and institutes in Berlin, Copenhagen, and England, as well as membership in the Royal Society.

    Hinrichs also was a mathematical crystallographer, ranked with the European leaders of that field. His published works on the subject include "Introduction to Crystallographic Chemistry," "Microscopical Chemical Analysis," "Chemico-Physical Reality of Rhombo-Tesseral Form," and many others in such journals as Comptes Rendus, Moniteur Scientifique, and Sitzungsberichte.

    Hinrichs left the State University of Iowa under unfortunate circumstances in 1886, when he came into public disagreement with President Josiah L. Pickard and the State Board of Education over compensation for scientific apparatus and the failure to recruit more students with an interest in science. His work as a professor of chemistry and physics, his promotion of the College of Medicine at the State University of Iowa, his nationally famous work with the Iowa Weather Report Service and the National Weather Bureau, and his publications on mineralogy, meteorology, and geology ensured his reputation. He died in St. Louis.
Sources include American Men of Science (1906, 1910, 1921); Paul J. Waite, "The History of Atmospheric Sciences in Iowa," Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science (1975); and Charles Keyes, "The Crystallographic Work of Gustavus Hinrichs," American Mineralogist 9 (1924).
Contributor: Loren N. Horton