Increase Allen Lapham was born on March 7, 1811, in Palmyra, New York. He was one of 13 children born to his Quaker parents, his father was a construction contractor. With no money for education, he went to work on canal construction crews. (Canals were all the rage for transportation in the early to mid 19th Century.)
Even though he had no formal education, Lapham had a natural artistic talent for drawing and sketching. He was able to teach himself draughting, and on that strength, went to work for Byron Kilbourn on the Miami and Ohio Canal project, as a surveyor and draughtsman.
Kilbourn moved on to become one of the three men who founded Milwaukee, a fascinating story on its own. Kilbourn had a concept to connect Lake Michigan, via the Milwaukee River, to the Mississippi River by canal. Kilbourn invited Lapham to be the chief engineer on the project, which he accepted, and moved to Milwaukee.
The canal was never built, but Lapham stayed on and became a prominent citizen of Milwaukee. As a surveyor, he traveled Wisconsin, making topological sketches and documenting unusual features in the state. His first work was published in 1844, Geographical and Topographical Description of Wisconsin
and it was also the first book published in Wisconsin. He continued his prolific writing, including an effort decrying the clear-cutting of Northern Wisconsin woodlands by lumber barons. His predictions went unheeded until most of northern Wisconsin was clear-cut and stronger conservation efforts were put into place.
His pioneering work in weather observations and his firm belief that weather could be forecasted accurately, led to the formation of the National Weather Bureau.
In 1855, the Smithsonian Institute published his book entitled The Antiquities of Wisconsin
that documented Native American burial and effigy mounds in the region. He had carefully plotted, drawn, and documented Aztalan, Panther Intaglio, Man Mound and many other such sites.
Lapham died of a heart attack in 1875 and is buried in Milwaukee's Forest Home Cemetery