By Paul J. Waite, published in The Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science, 1975, 82(2):88-93. All rights reserved.
The colorful and versatile creator of the Iowa Weather Service, Gustavus D. Hinrichs (1836-1923) was born and educated in Denmark . He arrived in the United States in 1861. His first position came as head of the newly created department of Modern Languages at the University of Iowa . In 1863 Dr. Hinrichs became professor of philosophy, chemistry and physical sciences. In 1871 he became professor of physical sciences and director of the laboratory, until his strong will and forceful opinions created dissention that lead to his departure from the University of Iowa staff in 1886.
Professor Hinrichs was a "brilliant and gifted educator who pioneered in many fields." According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen (1953) he was the second college professor in the United States to establish a physical laboratory for students in which they could experiment, and it was during his tenure that the University of Iowa was recognized as having one of the four leading science laboratories in North America . In his lifetime he wrote some 300 publications including 25 books.
When the medical faculty was chosen in 1870, he was one of the original eight members and served as professor of chemistry. The University of Iowa medical historian observed that "in 1872, 290 out of 400 students in the university were registered to his courses. The champions of the classical curriculum grew envious and with the accession of President Thatcher, the scientific course was relegated to a secondary position". His interests ranged across the entire scientific gamut, for his works extended across chemistry, toxicology, astronomy, physics, horticulture, and meteorology. It was from this meteorological base that he began his own weather observations in Iowa City in 1873 and proceeded to become the father of the Iowa Weather Service.
Almost immediately he established the Central Weather Observatory, first on campus, but later in 1876 in his own home, which was designed to house both his family and Hinrichs' observatory. The formal organization came in August, 1875, when Professor Hinrichs issued his call to "friends of scientific work . . . to secure as complete a history of the weather of Iowa as possible in order to furnish material for an exhaustive study of the climate of our state. On this first day of October, 1875, actual and regular observations were begun at sixty stations, distributed over all parts of Iowa , though closest together in the more densely populated parts of the state." Dr. Hinrichs described his corps of volunteer observers as largely physicians, but coming from many walks of life, willing to provide without compensation thrice daily observations ( 8 a.m. , noon and 8 p.m. ). Professor Hinrichs spent his own money and time to create and operate the service. Within a few months after the establishment of Iowa Weather Service, the observers bore their own share of the operating expense, for weather was important to them. The observers reported promptly to the Central Weather Observatory in Iowa City no less than three times monthly. Professor Hinrichs issued the reports about Iowa weather between the fourth and seventh of each succeeding month to the Iowa newspapers, "long in advance of the monthly reports issued in Washington, and [which] at the same time, are naturally much more complete so far as our State is concerned" (Iowa Weather Report, 1876).
Without official recognition or support, the Iowa weather date, so carefully analyzed by Professor Hinrichs, accumulated at the Central Observatory. However, John. R. Shaffer, Secretary of the Iowa State Agricultural Society, requested of the Board of Directors of the Society that the 1875-76 annual report of the Iowa Weather Service be published as an appendix to the State Agricultural Report for that year. In the 1887 report Dr. Hinrichs commented upon the considerable expenditure of his own labor and money which he said would be imprudent for him to continue even if possible.
In 1878 the sought-after state support was extended by the 17 th General Assembly in the establishment of the Iowa Weather Service with the Central Observatory in Iowa City ; Professor Gustavus Hinrichs was named its first director. The act, signed on March 15, 1878, by Governor John H. Gear, also provided "one thousand dollars annually, or so much thereof as may be necessary, for the purpose of meeting the actual expenses in carrying out the provisions of this measure, but not part of said sum shall be used in payment of salaries to any officer or officers, except for clerk hire and only upon the order of the said Director" (Iowa General Assembly; Acts 17:38-39, 1878). The act also specified that the director's duties included the establishment of "volunteer weather stations throughout the state and to supervise the same." Thus the tradition of free weather observations for the state was perpetuated with that act. Dr. Hinrichs also served as the state director without salary throughout his tenure, which lasted until 1889. Because of the diversity of Professor Hinrichs' interests and abilities, the Iowa Weather Service printed earthquake date, magnetic observations and astronomical phenomena in addition to weather date. Professor Hinrichs also observed maximum solar radiation, sunspot numbers and ozone at Iowa City .