Douglass Houghton was by all accounts a remarkable man. Although born and raised in New York, he was instrumental in the development of his adopted state of Michigan. Undoubtedly a gifted and dedicated scientist, he was also a skilled doctor, a successful real estate speculator, and an able (though somewhat reluctant) politician.
Houghton was responsible for both the creation and execution of the First Geological Survey of Michigan; enacted by the new legislature mere hours after Michigan’s statehood became official in January of 1837, the Survey was an effort to explore and catalog the resources of the new state. Although primarily focused on geology, Douglass Houghton and his assistants of the Survey also documented and collected plants, animals, and fossils. The University of Michigan, which was moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor in 1837, was the official repository for these specimens– the University thus had an impressive natural history collection before it had classes, students, or even buildings.
The First Survey lasted from its inception in 1837 until Houghton’s death in 1845; he drowned in a storm on Lake Superior while attempting to complete the Survey’s mapping of the Upper Peninsula.