200th Birthday of Increase Lapham, Father of the NWS

Image of Dr. Increase A. Lapham.

Monday, March 7, marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Increase Allen Lapham, who many recognize as the father of the National Weather Service.   There will be a proclamation by the Mayor of Milwaukee on Monday, March 7 at 9:30 am in the Council Chambers to recognize Dr. Lapham's numerous scientific contributions to Wisconsin and the nation.

Dr. Increase A. Lapham, a Milwaukee scientist with many interests including meteorology, was the catalyst for the formation of the agency that would eventually become the National Weather Service. Dr. Lapham supported a storm warning service for the Great Lakes and he sent frequent clippings of maritime casualties to General Halbert E. Paine, Congressman for Milwaukee. Congressman Paine recognized the importance and practicability of Lapham's cause and, on February 2, 1870, he introduced a Joint Congressional Resolution requiring the Secretary of War "to provide for taking meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent and at other points in the States and Territories...and for giving notice on the northern (Great) lakes and on the seacoast by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms."

The Resolution was passed by Congress and signed into law on February 9, 1870, by President Ulysses S. Grant.  The new agency was assigned to the Signal Service Corps under Brevet Brigadier General Albert J. Myer. General Myer gave the National Weather Service its first name: The Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce.

On November 8, 1870, General Myer requested Dr. Lapham assume responsibility for the Great Lakes region (with a salary of $167 per month), and Lapham obliged by issuing the first storm warning the same day.

Dr. Lapham lived in Wisconsin from about 1836 until his death in 1875.  Lapham Peak in the Kettle Moraine State Forest is named in his honor.

For more information about Dr. Lapham and the history of the National Weather Service, see this article by the NWS Public Affairs Office, and this article from Monthly Weather Review, a journal of the American Meteorological Society (provided by NOAA Central Library).

Return to News Archive

USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.