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Firsts in Geology


  • January 5, 1818-September 22, 1889. George H. Cook. Supervised the publication of the first large-scale state-wide topographic map in New Jersey, 1887.

  • January 10, 1638-November 26, 1686. Nicolas Steno. Danish scientist known as the Father of Stratigraphy. His most famous contribution to geology is referred to as Steno's Law of Superposition: layers of rock are arranged in a time sequence, oldest on bottom, youngest on top (unless later processes disturb their arrangement). First to correctly identify fossils found on mountaintops as having originated in the sea.


  • February 12, 1809-April 19, 1882. Charles Robert Darwin. English naturalist who firmly established the theory of evolution in his book Origin of Species, 1859.


  • March 15, 1801-July 23, 1882. George Perkins Marsh. America's first environmen- talist. His book, Man and Nature, 1864, marks the start of the modern conservation movement.

  • March 23, 1769-August 28, 1839. William "Strata" Smith. English geologist, credited with creating the first nationwide geological map. Known as the Father of English Geology.

  • March 24, 1834-September 23, 1902. John Wesley Powell. Led the first scientific expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers on a three month journey in 1869 before becoming director of the United States Geological Survey. The journey confirmed his geologic theory about the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and its history. On a second expedition in 1871, mapped the river and published scientific papers concerning his ideas. Powell managed these accomplishments despite the loss of his right arm at the battle of Shiloh during the Civil War.


  • April 21, 1827-December 29, 1861. William M. Kitchell. Organized the first state- sponsored topographic survey in the United States. The topography and the geology of New Jersey were mapped on a county basis, starting with Cape May.


  • May 2, 1944. Carol Scott Keffer. First woman geologist hired by NJGS (1966).

  • May 6, 1843-May 1,1918. G. K. (Grove Karl) Gilbert. New York born geologist was first to identify an area in the Great Basin area of Utah as an ancient lake that existed from about 32,000 to 14,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Era. He named the area Lake Bonneville. Also, the first to identify lunar craters as impact events.

  • May 25, 1867-October 23, 1945. Henry B. Kümmel. First president of the Association of American State Geologists (May 12, 1908), was New Jersey State Geologist 1901-1937.

  • May 28, 1807-December 14, 1873. Louis Agassiz. First to formulate theory of the great Ice Age, gathered evidence of glaciation in Europe and later found even more support for his ideas in North America.


  • June 3, 1726-March 26, 1797. James Hutton. His recognition of the enormous length of geologic time came to be included in the ground breaking theories of plutonism and uniformitarianism. He is known as the Father of Modern Geology.

  • June 18, 1791-May 13, 1859. Denison Olmsted. Completed a manuscript for the first geologic map of a state (North Carolina, 1825). After observing the Leonid meteor shower in 1833 and studying its periodicity, he demonstrated that meteors are cosmic in origin and not an atmospheric phenomenon.

  • June 21, 1887-September 11, 1956. Norm Bowen. Revolutionized experimental petrology and our understanding of mineral crystallization when The Evolution of the Igneous Rocks was published in 1928. Called the Father of Igneous Petrology, his book became "petrology handbook."


  • July 14, 1862-June 18, 1945. Florence Bascom. First woman geologist hired by the United States Geological Survey (1896). First woman to present a scientific paper at the Geological Society of Washington (1901). First woman officer of the Geological Society of America (1924). First woman to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins University (1893), even though she was compelled to sit behind a screen during classes so her presence would not "disrupt" the male students.


  • August 1, 1808-May 26, 1866. Henry Darwin Rogers. First New Jersey State Geologist, appointed by Governor Vroom on April 24, 1835. Presented the first annual report to the Governor on February 16, 1836, and published in the same year.

  • August 24, 1949. Richard A. Volkert. The first NJGS geologist elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America.


  • September 5, 1858-February 1, 1950. Cornelius C. Vermeule. Completed the first large-scale topographical survey of New Jersey.

  • September 10, 1941-May 20, 2002. Stephen Jay Gould. Paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, historian of science, author and professor, was first to publish, with coauthor Niles Eldredge, the theory of biological evolution called punctuated equilibrium, Punctuated Equilibria: An Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism, 1972.

  • September 28, 1807-February 8, 1884. Arnold Guyot. First to present, in a paper submitted to the Geological Society of France, important observations relating to glacial motion and structure, such as, glaciers flow more rapidly at the center than the sides and more rapidly at the top than the bottom. He described the laminated or ribboned structure of glacial ice, and ascribed the movement of glaciers to a gradual molecular displacement rather than to a sliding of the ice mass. He also collected important data concerning glacial erratic boulders.


  • October 5, 1903-October 11, 1989. M. (Marion) King Hubbert. He demonstrated mathematically that rock in the Earth's crust, because it is under immense pressure in large areas, should exhibit plasticity similar to clay. This demonstration explained the observed results that the Earth's crust deforms over time. He also studied the flow of underground fluids.

  • October 8, 1907-March 8, 2006. Christina Lockman Balk. Palaeontologist and first Dean of Women at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.

  • October 21, 1833-December 10, 1896. Alfred Nobel. Invented the blasting cap and dynamite. This made mining, road building and other construction more efficient, safer and cheaper.


  • November 1, 1880-November 2, 1930. Alfred Wegener. First to develop the theory of continental drift, arguing that all the continents were once joined together in a single landmass and have drifted apart.

  • November 14, 1797-February 22, 1875. Charles Lyell. First to introduce the doctrine of uniformitarianism (the present is the key to the past) in his book, Principles of Geology, initially published in three volumes, 1830-33.

  • November 28, 1876-June 14, 1948. O.E. (Oscar Edward) Meinzer. Father of Hydrogeology. He was appointed Chief of the Ground Water Division at United States Geological Survey in 1911 and served until 1946. He and his staff pioneered the new field of hydrogeology.

  • November 29, 1890-December 25, 1980. Arthur Buddington. Father of New Jersey Highlands geology.

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