History of Geology


Newton Horace Winchell

Active Founder (sources: Upham, 1915; Fairchild, 1932).

Personal. Newton Horace Winchell, younger brother of Alexander Winchell, was born in Northeast, New York, on December 17, 1839, and died following a surgical operation in Minneapolis on May 2, 1914. His ancestors were British immigrants who settled in Windsor, Connecticut, in 1635.

His father, Horace Winchell, and his mother, Caroline McAllister Winchell, were school teachers. N.H. Winchell attended the public school and academy at Salisbury, Connecticut. He then taught in a district school (1856–1858) before entering the University of Michigan in 1858, where his older brother was Professor of Geology. He alternated studies at the university and teaching in public schools, finally receiving his degree from the University of Michigan in 1866, and an M.A. in 1867.

During the next five years N.H. Winchell was superintendent of schools in Adrian, Michigan (1867–1869); an assistant to his brother on the Geological Survey of Michigan (1869–1870); and assistant to J.S. Newberry, the State Geologist of Ohio (1870–1872). Then, in 1872 N.H. Winchell became State Geologists of Minnesota, a position he retained until 1900, and Professor of Geology at the University of Minnesota, a position he kept for only seven years (1872–1879). Beginning in the spring of 1906 he directed the Department of Archeology of the Minnesota Historical Society until his death.

Newton Horace Winchell married Charlotte Sophia Imus of Galesburg, Michigan, on August 24, 1864. They had five children. His wife and children survived him.

Professional. N.H. Winchell’s name is associated mainly with the study of the geology of Minnesota as an outgrowth of his 28 years as head of its Survey. He did write, however, on a range of topics that include stratigraphy, economic geology of the iron ores, Quaternary geology, and paleontology. He was one of the organizers of the Minnesota Academy of Sciences (founded 1873), and served three terms as its President. He was one of the chief founders of GSA (see below). He also headed the seven-man group that started the American Geologist in January 1888, the first distinctively geologic journal since 1814, and he served as Editor of that journal for 18 years (1888–1905).

Role as a Founder. N.H. Winchell was one of the chief proponents for the establishment of an American geological society during the 1880s, from its conception in 1881 to its birth in 1888. At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Cincinnati in August 1881 N.H. Winchell was appointed chairman of a committee to consider the advisability of forming a geological society that was independent of the AAAS, and he also chaired a committee appointed to write a constitution for the proposed new society. As noted in the discussion of the history of the birth of GSA, the idea and the proposed constitution were tabled year after year until 1888. In June of that year N.H. Winchell and C.H. Hitchcock used the June 1888 issue of American Geologist to issue a call to all geologists to assemble at Cleveland at the August meeting of AAAS for the purpose of organizing a new geological society. This proved successful and, at the next meeting in Ithaca on December 27, 1888, the new society was formally approved and GSA was born.  N.H. Winchell served as a member of the first Advisory Committee to GSA’s Executive Council with a charge to consider the character of the publications of the new society, as Councilor (1892–1894), as Second Vice-President (1900), as First Vice-President (1901), and as President (1902).

Learn more about GSA’s Founders.


by Vince Matthews

Serving as General Chair of GSA’s 125th Anniversary Meeting caused me to ponder a bit more about our legacy than I normally would have.  As I thought back over the last hundred and twenty five years, several of my favorite GSA members/stories come to mind:  S.F. Emmons, Frank Taylor, Margaret Fuller Boos, and N. L. Bowen.  Here are some ramblings about them.


Samuel Franklin Emmons, February 14, 1889.

A couple of blocks from my house here in Leadville, is where Frank Emmons camped with his field crew while conducting his magnificent study of the Leadville Mining District. This study resulted in the world renowned “Miners Bible” (USGS Monograph XII) that was published two years before he became a founding fellow of GSA. Emmons made major contributions to our early understanding of the geology of the West in many areas. He was one of the two lead geologists for Clarence King’s Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel. During that service, his observations were key in exposing the “Great Diamond Hoax”.  Emmons Glacier was named for him on Mount Rainer to recognize his pioneering work there.  His work was recognized both in America and Europe.

Frank Bursey Taylor

Frank Bursley Taylor

Whereas Emmons was widely recognized and honored, Frank Taylor has suffered relative obscurity, when he shouldn’t have.  In 1908, Taylor presented an oral paper at the GSA meeting wherein he proposed Continental Drift as a mechanism for the origin of mountain belts. His 1910 paper in the GSA Bulletin is spooky to read these days. He talked about the mid-Atlantic Ridge being a place where “plates” were moving apart. He talked about the Himalayas being the place where the Asian continent was being thrust out onto the Indian crust. He talked about the Aleutians being thrust out onto the Pacific Ocean floor. Taylor’s oral presentation was four years before Alfred Wegner’s oral presentation, and his publication was five years before Wegner’s. But, Taylor’s affliction was that he was publishing in an American scientific journal, and Wegner published in German.  Back then, if anything was important, it was published in German. So, most of the geological community is unaware of Taylor’s amazing analysis.

Margaret Fuller Boos

Margaret Fuller Boos

Margaret Fuller Boos received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 1929 and was the 10th woman to become a fellow of GSA.  In 1927, she was the first woman naturalist to be hired in Rocky Mountain National Park and wrote the geological guide for the Park that is still used by Park personnel today.  Margaret studied and published on the Front Range of Colorado for the next several decades.  She taught at The University of Denver, where she and her students plane-tabled the marbles of the Front Range metamorphic complex.  In my judgment, her 1955 map of the Laramide faults along the flank of the Front Range are still the most comprehensive, and accurate, representation of those features.  I consider myself fortunate to have gotten to know her in her eighties.


Norman Levi Bowen

Reading N.L. Bowen’s Presidential Address to the Society in 1947, and HH Read’s response when visiting as President of the Geological Society of London, gives an insight into some of the more lively exchanges that used to not be too rare in our society.  Read and Bowen were foremost thinkers in the world on the origin of granite in 1947, with Bowen being a magmatist and Read a granitizer. In his presidential address, Bowen defines the differences between him and Read thusly:

“We can indeed for rough purposes, separate petrologists into the ‘pontiffs’ and the ‘soaks.’ The pontiff bears the stigma of magma. The magma gives rise to emanations which yield a liquor. The difference between the ‘pontiff’ and the ‘soak’ is that the latter must have his liquor in lavish quantities on all occasions, but the former handles his liquor like a gentleman.  He can take it or leave it, according to the indications of the individual occasion.” Read appeared by invitation, before GSA, and started by saying, “I don’t know whether I am here in the capacity of President of the Geological Society, or as a penitent before the pontiff’s bench.  But, I would remind Professor Bowen that the Pontiff is capable of great deal more misdeeds than the village drunk.”

We have lost most of this type of exchange in our meetings, and I am not sure it is for the best.  Sometimes it was good to hear a Jim Gilluly or Aaron Waters stand up in a talk and issue a “Hogwash”.  I feel honored to have received a “Horses**t” from Gilluly a few decades ago.

At any rate, the 125th Annual Meeting with its record attendance, Field Assistant Beer, and record number of presentations was a fitting tribute to those who came before us.

Dr. Vincent Matthews III is the former State Geologist of Colorado, and currently serves as Interim Executive Director at National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum as well as Principal of Leadville Geology, LLC.



Samuel Gardner Williams

Active Founder (Sources: Anonymous, 1900, 1924; Fairchild, 1932).

Personal. Samuel Gardner Williams was born near West Winfield in Herkimer County, New York, on August 15, 1827, and died in Ithaca, New York, on May 19, 1900.

His great-grandfather, Samuel Williams, was the first of the family in the United States. S.G. Williams, the son of Ralph and Matilda (Taylor) Williams, attended Whitestown Seminary before enrolling in Hamilton College, from which he graduated as class valedictorian in 1852. He received a Ph.D. from Hamilton in 1867. During the period 1852 to 1879 he served as a teacher or principal, successively, at Groton Academy, Seneca Falls Academy, Ithaca Academy, and Central High School in Cleveland. Cornell appointed Williams to the chair of general and economic geology in 1879. He transferred to the new chair of pedagogy in 1886 and served there until his retirement in 1898.

Williams married Electa Clark in 1853. She died in 1875. He then married Mrs. Sarah Louise (Hubbell) Babcock in 1887. She died in 1897. Williams had two daughters by his first marriage.

Professional. Williams’s first publication in geology was a brief report (1875) for the Hayden Survey on the coal and oil potential of some formations near Canon City, Colorado. Between 1883 and 1887 Williams wrote five papers on Paleozoic rocks of central and western New York dealing with their areal extent, stratigraphy, and fossils. The culmination of Williams’s geological work was his text book Applied Geology: A Treatise on the Industrial Relations of Geological Structure; and on the Nature, Occurrence, and Uses of Substances Derived from Geological Sources (1886), issued in the popular Appleton science series. The book included a brief, simple introduction to the principles of geology, followed by descriptions of materials of economic potential, with an emphasis on their occurrence within the United States. Williams also published several books and papers on the history of education.

Role as a Founder. Williams’s main association with GSA was his attendance at the December 1888 meeting in Ithaca, a happenstance of his work at Cornell that came at the end of his research career as a geologist. He had given papers at Section E (Geology and Geography) meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1884, 1885, and 1886 and was, therefore, probably present during discussions that led to the formation of GSA. He also signed the Circular of the Committee of Organization of the American Geological Society in August 1888, along with 36 other individuals.


Israel Charles White

Active Founder (sources: Fairchild, 1928, 1932). —By Peter Lessing.

Personal. Israel Charles White was born on November 1, 1848, in Monongalia County, Virginia (now West Virginia), and died from a cerebral hemorrhage on November 25, 1927, in Baltimore, Maryland.

White’s first American ancestor, of English descent, arrived in Maryland in 1639. The youngest of five children, White spent his youth on the family farm and walked three miles to school. He graduated from West Virginia University with A.B. (1872) and A.M. (1875) degrees in geology. He received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Arkansas (1880), from West Virginia University (1919), and from the University of Pittsburgh (1922). White was married three times. He married Emma McClane Shay in 1872. They had one daughter before Emma died in 1874. He then married Mary Moorhead in 1878. They had one son and four daughters before Mary died in 1924. White married his third wife, Julla Posten Wildman, in 1925. They had no children, and she survived him.

His geological experience began with the Second Geological Survey of Pennsylvania (1875–1883) and continued with the U.S. Geological Survey (1883–1888). During this time he was also Professor of Geology at West Virginia University (1877–1892). White was essentially self-employed between 1892 and 1897; he invested in oil leases, coal, telephones, glass works, real estate, banks, and consulted at very high fees, thus becoming a millionaire. He was in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) during 1897 as a delegate to the International Geological Congress when West Virginia appointed him the first State Geologist. He retained this position, without pay, for 30 years, until his death.

Professional. White contributed significantly to the geology of coal, oil, and gas in the Appalachian Basin. He promulgated the “anticlinal theory” of oil and gas accumulation and literally made his personal fortune drilling the anticlines. As State Geologist of West Virginia, White initiated topographic and geologic mapping at a scale of 1:62,500 for the entire state. The mapping was completed in 1939. Although long out of print, the maps and accompanying text are still used today. He also developed ten editions of a statewide mineral-resources map at a scale of 1:500,000. White wrote or supervised the preparation of more than 200 publications and maps that dealt primarily with coal and petroleum in the Appalachians.

White was the Chief Geologist for the Brazilian Coal Commission (1904–1906), for which he evaluated that country’s coal and oil reserve. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt requested him to talk on “The Waste of Our Fuel Resources” at the Conference of Governors on the Conservation of Natural Resources held at the White House. In addition to his service to GSA (see below), White was a charter member and served as President of American Association of Petroleum Geologists (1919–1920), Vice-President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1906), and President of Association of American State Geologists (1913–1915).

Role as a Founder. White was in Ithaca, New York, on December 27, 1888, as one of the original 13 founders of GSA. White’s stature with regard to Appalachian coals and hydrocarbons was firmly established by this time, but his presence at Ithaca was certainly influenced by his mentor, J.J. Stevenson, another of the original 13. At the Ithaca meeting, White was appointed to the publication committee along with W.M. Davis, J. Le Conte, W J McGee, and N.H. Winchell. Perhaps his most significant contribution to GSA was his service as Treasurer (1892–1906). During these 15 years, he served without any compensation to himself or for the running of the office, and he raised the publication fund to $10,000 by investing in first-class interest-bearing securities. He also served as a Councilor (1891), as First Vice-President (1912), and as President (1920, while also President of AAPG).

Here is a link to the Presidential Address of Israel C. White read before the Society 28 December 1920 and published in GSA Bulletin, v. 32, p. 171–186 (31 March 1921).



Henry Bradford Nason

Active Founder (sources: Chamberlin, 1895; Fairchild, 1932).

Personal. Henry Bradford Nason was born in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on June 22, 1831, and died at Troy, New York, on January 18, 1895.

Nason’s early education began in a school for boys at Newburyport, followed by the Adelphian Academy at Bridgewater, and completed in the Williston Seminary at East Hampton. In 1855 he graduated from Amherst College. Nason then began a period of travel and studies in Europe. He entered Gottingen University in German, chemistry his major and mineralogy and geology his collateral studies, receiving his Ph.D. in 1857. After returning to the United States and teaching briefly at Raymond Collegiate Institute, Nason, in 1859, became Professor of Chemistry and Natural History at Beloit College, a position he resigned in 1866 to accept a similar appointment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he remained until his death.

Nason married Frances Townsend at Troy in 1864. They had a son and a daughter.

Professional. Nason was primarily a chemist and mineralogist. He was a member of several foreign as well as American chemical societies, and he was the editor of several chemical and mineralogical works. He had a broad interest in science, including geology. During his travels in southern Europe, he indulged his geologic interests by studying volcanic phenomena. He did not consider himself to be a geologist, however, and he felt constrained from publishing his geologic observations in journals of a discipline not his own. He did teach geology as part of his courses in natural history, and he did include geologists among his colleagues, but these were peripheral to his main interests in chemistry and the chemistry aspects of mineralogy.

Role as a Founder. Nason was at the 1888 Ithaca meeting, most probably because it was held near his home town and he had an interest in geology. Thus, his principal role as founder was to be there and to cast his vote in support of the new geological society.



William John McGee

Active Founder (Sources: Knowlton, 1913; Fairchild, 1932).

Personal. William John McGee was born on a farm at Farley, Iowa, on April 17, 1853, and died of cancer in Washington, D.C., on September 4, 1912. His father and mother, James and Martha Ann (Anderson) McGee, were both of Scotch-Irish stock whose own ancestors emigrated to the American colonies in the eighteenth century and participated in the Revolution on the American side. W.J. McGee, who styled himself       “W J McGee,” was the fourth of eight children born to his parents. McGee attended the county district school in Iowa until he was about 14 years old. Although his formal education was minimal, he proved to have the initiative to continue his studies at home, with the encouragement of his mother and older brother. He became an excellent surveyor in his late teens, and, when about 20 years old, he learned blacksmithing and spent several years in the manufacture and sale of agricultural implements.

McGee first became interested in geology about 1874 and began reading widely about glaciation and its effects on the land, such as were evident in Iowa. He attended geology meetings and published his first scientific paper on glacial geology of Iowa in 1878. His subsequent report on the building stones of Iowa led to an appointment with the U.S. Geological Survey in July 1883. In a short time he was placed in charge of the division of Atlantic Coastal Plain Geology, a position he held until he resigned on June 30, 1893, to begin full-time work with the Bureau of American Ethnology. McGee resigned from the bureau on July 31, 1903, to assume charge of the Department of Anthropology of the St. Louis Exposition. Then, from 1905 to 1907, he was the first Director of the St. Louis Public Museum. In March 1907 he was elected Vice-Chairman and Secretary of the federally created Inland Waterways Commission as well as being appointed as an expert on soil waters in the Bureau of Soils, U.S. Department of Agriculture; he held both positions until his death.

McGee married Anita Newcomb, daughter of astronomer Simon Newcomb, in 1888; she and a son and daughter survived him.

Professional. McGee was a pioneer in the Pleistocene geology of the upper Mississippi Valley. When he began these studies in the 1870s, very little was known about the glacial history of the area, but he established the succession of glacial advances and retreats, which became the basis for later studies. However, McGee is known primarily for his contributions to American geology in the Atlantic Coastal Plain, where from 1883 to 1893 he recognized the broad problems of stratigraphic continuity and succession, and provided a basis for their solution. McGee was diverted from geological studies during his decade with the Bureau of American Ethnology, but he returned to geological concerns in his last decade, publishing a major bulletin of the Bureau of Soils concerning soil erosion.

Role as a Founder. McGee was actively involved in the beginnings of GSA. At the December 27, 1888, meeting in Ithaca, he was Secretary of the committee appointed to advise the Executive Council of the American Geological Society, with a charge to consider the character of the publications for the new society. McGee was responsible for establishing much of the style and format of the new Bulletin, which was a major factor in establishing the professional and scientific integrity of the Society. McGee was appointed Editor on January 18, 1890, and served as Editor for the first three volumes (1889 to 1892).



James Furman Kemp

Active Founder (sources: Lindgren, 1927; Fairchild, 1932).

Personal. James Furman Kemp was born on August 14, 1859, in New York, and died of a heart attack on November 17, 1926, at Great Neck, Long Island.

Kemp was of Scotch and English descent. He graduated from Amherst College with an A.B. in 1881, and then attended the School of Mines of Columbia College, where he received an E.M. degree in 1884. After graduate studies in Germany, Kemp became an instructor and then Assistant Professor of Geology at Cornell University (1886 to 1891). In 1891 he returned to Columbia as an Adjunct Professor, and the next year, on the death of J.S. Newberry, Kemp became professor and head of the department, where he remained until his death.

In 1889, Kemp married Kate Taylor of Kingston, Rhode Island, and they had three children.

Professional. Kemp was known primarily for his work in igneous petrology and in origin of ore deposits. In particular, his application of petrography in economic geology linked his two interests. His earliest petrographic studies, which were influenced by another GSA founder, J. Francis Williams, resulted in papers dealing with igneous rocks in a number of places, including his famous studies of the Adirondacks. His major work on the origin of ore deposits started in 1902 with a statement of the connection between igneous rocks and many types of ore deposits. He continued his investigations of the origin of ore deposits with many reports over the years on specific deposits in widely scattered localities. In 1905 Kemp was a principal founder of Economic Geology. He was a wellknown member of many scientific organizations and served as President of the New York Academy of Sciences (1905 and 1910), of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers (1912), of the Mining and Metallurgical Society (1912), and of GSA (1921).

Role as a Founder. Kemp was a young geologist just beginning his affiliation with Cornell University in Ithaca when the organizing committee met there in 1888 to approve a new geological society. Kemp attended the meeting and supported the new organization. In the years that followed, he became more active with GSA, serving as Councilor (1905 to 1907), and First Vice-President (1913), and as President (1921).


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