Winchell was a long time State Geologist of Wisconsin. 1855 to 1873 he was professor of geology, zoology and botany at the University of Michigan.
Like many other intellectuals involved Winchell in the last third of the century position against universal and equal suffrage, as he saw threatened the political order through corruption and the influence of money over the thought of education for too long.
In 1888 he founded in Ithaca (New York ), along with James Hall and James Dwight Dana, the Geological Society of America.
The Mount Winchell in the Palisades of the Sierra Nevada is named after him.