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Geologic Mapping Hall of Fame

American scientist-explorers have been making geologic maps since before the Bureau's inception in 1879. Learn about some of the premier USGS geologists who, through their work, have done so much to shape our understanding of the geologic framework of the Nation.

Nelson Horatio Darton (1865-1948)

Photo of Nelson Horatio Darton (1865-1948), one of the first USGS geologic mappers and scientific photographers.
Photo of Nelson Horatio Darton (1865-1948), one of the first USGS geologic mappers and scientific photographers (Public domain).

Nelson Horatio Darton was born in 1865 in Brooklyn, New York. He was always interested in science and mathematics, and at the age of 13 he became an apprentice at his uncle’s drug business. While there, he soon became a practicing chemist. As a sideline, he became interested in geology and was hired by the USGS in 1886 after he met G.K. Gilbert, the Chief of the USGS Appalachian Division. He initially worked on a card catalogue of Appalachian geology but soon moved into geologic fieldwork. Darton began making geologic maps in West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland.

Throughout his career he had an interest in understanding ground water and how it was influenced by geology. Darton did an impressive amount of mapping in New York, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, and Colorado.

Darton had many abilities besides making geologic maps. He was an expert in geological photography, made some important paleontological discoveries, and constructed topographic maps for bases for his geologic maps whenever they weren't available.

He retired in 1936 at the age of 71 but was allowed to keep his office at the USGS, and he continued an active geological career with a focus on the geology of the Washington DC area. He produced more than 200 publications and received many honors and awards. Three weeks before he died in 1948 , he was still coming daily to the USGS and gave a lecture to the Geological Society of Washington on the geology of the DC area.

Additional Information About N. H. Darton


Thomas Wilson Dibblee, Jr. (1911-2004)

Tom Dibblee was born in 1911 in Santa Barbara, California. He first became interested in geology in 1929, when his father hired a geologist to investigate the oil potential on the family property. After Tom graduated from Stanford University, he spent 16 years working for oil companies and then 25 years working for the U.S. Geological Survey. Much of this time was spent alone in the field making geologic maps of California. Tom retired in 1977 and became a Research Associate with the University of California Santa Barbara, and, at the request of the U.S. Forest Service, he began mapping the 1.2 million acres of the Los Padres National Forest. During his career, he mapped over 40,000 square miles of California (about a quarter of the state), a feat that probably will never be equaled. Tom was the first man to map the entire San Andreas Fault. In fact, his early work on the fault indicated that it had moved more than 300 miles, and this became a critical piece to understanding plate tectonics.

The nonprofit Thomas Wilson Dibblee Jr. Geological Foundation was created to publish and distribute his maps.

Tom received the U.S. Geological Survey Distinguished Service Award in 1967, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ Human Needs Award in 1981, and the Presidential Volunteer Action Award from President Reagan in 1983.

Tom passed away on November 24, 2004.

Additional Information About T.W. Dibblee, Jr.


Philip Burke King (1903-1987)

Philip Burke King (1903-1987) Produced the definitive geologic map of the United States.
Philip Burke King (1903-1987) produced the definitive geologic map of the United States (Public domain).

Philip Burke King was born in 1903. His interests and methods of scientific inquiry were those of a field geologist who obtains his data from the rocks exposed at the Earth's surface and from them derives inferences as to the history and behavior of the Earth. He was especially interested in the sedimentary rocks, and interpreted the environments in which they were originally laid down and the relation of these environments to tectonic movements that were taking place in the Earth's crust.

King was graduated from Iowa State University (B.A., 1924; M.S., 1927) and Yale University (Ph.D., 1929). He spent most of his career from 1930 onward as a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He taught at universities for short periods: (Texas, 1925-27), Arizona (1929-30), UCLA (1954-56), and in the autumn of 1965 was a visiting lecturer at the University of Moscow.

In 1965, he was awarded the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America and the Distinguished Service Medal of the U.S. Department of Interior. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1966. He was attending the International Geological Congress meeting in Prague in August, 1968, when the Soviets invaded; he was evacuated to Nurnberg.

King did his early field work (1925) in the Marathon region, an area of about 1,600 square miles in the trans-Pecos part of Texas, where varied rocks and structures that were formed during the Paleozoic have been stripped of the cover of younger strata that conceal them elsewhere in this part of the Southwest. His first fieldwork in the Marathon region was on Permian marine strata that form a sequence about 7,000 feet thick on the northern side of the Glass Mountains. Instead of an orderly sequence, the strata of the Glass Mountains were a disorderly array of discontinuous bodies of carbonate rocks, shale, and sandstone. An opportunity to clarify the Permian stratigraphy of western Texas came later (1934), when King began work in the southern Guadalupe Mountains about 150 miles northwest of the Glass Mountains. During King's field work there, he gave much attention to the Capitan Limestone, which stands in lofty white cliffs at the summit of the mountains. In 1940-44, the wartime search for strategic minerals by the U.S. Geological Survey afforded King an opportunity to investigate the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and Tennessee where he unraveled and interpreted the massive folds and low-angle thrusts of that region. As he did these earlier investigations, he was aware of their broader significance and developed regional syntheses that resulted in his publications Evolution of North America (1959), the Tectonic Map of the United States (1944; 2nd ed. 1962; National Atlas version 1989), and the compilation of the Tectonic Map of North America (1969).

1974 Geologic Map of the United States.
King and Beikman's 1974 Geologic Map of the United States (Public domain).

In 1974, he and Helen Beikman produced the Geologic Map of the United States. King and Beikman's work lives on into the digital age. Their map has now been re-released, complete with ArcInfoTM GIS data coverages, as U.S. Geological Survey Digital Data Series DDS-11, Release 2.

This map was combined by José F. Vigil, Richard J. Pike, and David G. Howell in 2000, with the digital shaded-relief image created by Thelin and Pike in 1991, to create A Tapestry of Time and Terrain (also published as Geologic Investigations Series I 2720).

Philip B. King passed away on April 25, 1987.

Additional Information About P.B. King


J. David Love, Sr. (1913-2002)

J. David Love was born in 1913 in Wyoming where he grew up on the family ranch. The only time Dave left the State of Wyoming was to get a PhD from Yale University and then to spend four years working for Shell Oil Company in the mid-continent region. He returned to Wyoming in 1942, when he was hired by the USGS Mineral Deposits Branch. After 45 years with the USGS, primarily spent mapping Wyoming, he retired in 1987, but remained with the organization as a scientist emeritus.

One of his continuing interests through his career was the connection between geology and human health, for example, poisonous trace elements like selenium and molybdenum found in some soils. After he discovered uranium in Wyoming, he passed up an opportunity to capitalize financially on this and chose instead to remain with the USGS as a field geologist.

He received many awards and honors, including the USGS Meritorious Service Award and the American Geological Institute’s very first Legendary Geoscientist Award. John McPhee’s book “Rising from the Plains” (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 1986) is about Dave and the geology of Wyoming.

Both of Dr. Love’s sons became geologists. David Love died in 2002 at the age of 89.

Additional Information About J. David Love, Sr.