Torrey, John

Torrey, John,

1796–1873, American botanist and chemist, b. New York City, M.D. College of Physicians and Surgeons, 1818. He was professor of chemistry (1827–55) at his alma mater and professor of chemistry and natural history (1830–54) at Princeton. From 1853 he was chief assayer in the U.S. assay office in New York City. His herbarium was presented (1860) to Columbia, and in 1899 it was transferred to the New York Botanical Garden. He was a founder of the New York Academy of Sciences and of the Torrey Botanical Club. A genus of evergreen trees, Torreya, is named for him. He wrote A Flora of the State of New York (1843) and, with Asa GrayGray, Asa,
1810–88, one of America's leading botanists and taxonomists, b. Oneida co., N.Y. As professor of natural history at Harvard from 1842, he was the teacher of many eminent botanists.
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, A Flora of North America (2 vol., 1838–43).

Bibliography

See study by A. D. Rodgers (1965); catalog of Torrey's manuscripts in the New York Botanical Garden Library, comp. by S. Lenley et al. (1973).

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Torrey, John

(1796–1873) botanist; born in New York City. His interest in botany began in 1810, when he first met American naturalist Amos Eaton. Although he received his M.D. (1818) and practiced medicine (1818–24), he preferred botany, and published results of a two-year survey of wild plants found within a 30-mile radius of New York City. His scientific papers on plants of the northeastern U.S.A. brought him to fame, and large numbers of specimens collected by expeditions to the American West were sent to him for study and identification. He became dissatisfied with the Linnaean classification system and introduced a more natural botanical system to his classifications of U.S. flora. After marrying in 1824, he taught chemistry, mineralogy, and geology at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (1824–27). From then on, his knowledge of chemistry provided the financial support to continue his primary interest, systematic botany. He returned to New York City to teach chemistry and botany at the College of Physicians and Surgeons (1827–55), concurrently serving the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) during the summers of 1830–54. In 1834 he met the young Asa Gray, and was sufficiently impressed to invite Gray to assist him on his projected multivolume work, A Flora of North America, of which two volumes were published (1838, 1843) before the work was abandoned upon Gray's move to Harvard (1842). Torrey became chief assayer at the U.S. Assay Office, N.Y. (1854–73), which was then receiving large amounts of gold from California, and continued to expand his botanical collection while traveling on business to the western U.S.A. In 1856 he became a trustee of Columbia University; his library and herbarium were transferred to the New York Botanical Garden in 1899 (which he had helped to found). In addition to his pioneering contributions to the classification of American plants, he was an inspiring educator who influenced the careers of many future botanists. The Torrey Botanical Society, Torrey Peak in Colorado, the genus Torreya in the yew family, and the mineral torreyite are named in his honor.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.