Samuel Stehman Haldeman was born in Locust Grove, Pennsylvania on August 12, 1812, the eldest of what were to be the seven children of Henry and Frances Haldeman. He began his schooling at a local school on Conoy Creek. He also spent many hours in self-taught natural history during his spare time. When Haldeman was fourteen, he was sent to Dr. John Miller Keagy's classical school in Harrisburg and then went on to Dickinson College. He joined the class of 1831 but, with the college suffering the disruption that would lead to its temporary closing, remained only two years. Though he nurtured his emerging interest in biology and became a talented amateur scientist, he took over management of his father's new Chiquesalungo sawmill. His two brothers, Edwin and Paris, at the same time were starting an iron manufacturing business in the area and Samuel became a silent partner with them. He was always more involved in the science and the mechanics of both his businesses and continued during these years building up his impressive scientific acumen. In 1836, Henry Darwin Rogers, a former professor of Haldeman’s at Dickinson, asked him to take over the geology field operations in New Jersey that Rogers had to abandon on his being appointed the state geologist of Pennsylvania. Haldeman served in New Jersey for one year and, in 1837, came back to Pennsylvania to assist on the state survey there. In 1842, he returned home to publish his Monograph on the Freshwater Mollusca of the United States
, a project he had been working on for two years.
Following that very well received publication, Haldeman was invited to give a series of lectures on zoology at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. He was already a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences in the city. His research continued, and he published numerous articles in such journals as the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Boston Society of Natural History, and the American Journal of Science and Arts. In 1851, Haldeman further cemented his position as one of the leading scientists in Philadelphia when he became Professor of Natural History at the University of Pennsylvania. He held this position until 1855, when he accepted a similar post at Delaware College. All the while, Haldeman was lecturing at the State Agricultural College of Pennsylvania on chemistry and geology. By then, his seemingly boundless intellectual interests had again expanded to the study of language and in 1858 Haldeman was awarded the Trevelyan Prize, given by the Phonetic Society of Great Britain, for his article entitled “Analytic Orthography” (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society). The University of Pennsylvania won back Haldeman’s services in 1868, when he returned to become the first chair of the Department of Comparative Philology, a position he held for the rest of his life. His studies in his new area were tireless. He visited Europe often, investigated the varieties of accent in Rome, and studied Indian, Chinese, and English dialects. Closer to home, he studied and wrote on the Pennsylvania "Dutch" language. Haldeman helped found the American Philological Society in 1869, and in 1875 was named to a committee by the APA to review Noah Webster’s new spelling, and to determine the necessity of such a change. When medical advice ordered him to outdoor exercise, typically he took up archeology, excavating an Native American retreat at Chikis Rock in south eastern Pennsylvania.
Clearly he was a world famous scientist in his own right - with more than 150 publications to his credit - and friend and collaborator with some of the great naturalists of the century, including Darwin and Baird. He had converted to Catholicism in the 1840s. He was a Democrat in politics and in stature stood around five feet seven. In 1835, he had married Mary Hough of Bainbridge, Pennsylvania and the couple had two sons and two daughters. Samuel Stehman Haldeman, died suddenly of a heart attack in the evening of September 10, 1880 at his home in Chickies, Pennsylvania following his return from attendance at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston. He was sixty-eight years old.