History of the Department

A Brief History of Geoscience at Wisconsin

The science of geology has been represented at the University of Wisconsin from the first formal meeting of the original Board of Regents in October of 1848, at which time a collection of rocks and minerals was authorized. Geologic and mineralogic instruction also was authorized but was not realized until 1856 with the appointment of Ezra S. Carr as Professor of Chemistry and Natural History. In 1870 Roland D. Irving was appointed as the first Professor of a newly created Department of Geology, Mining, and Metallurgy. Interest in the natural resources of the state was keen at that time because southwest Wisconsin had become the principal lead producing district in the United States during the 1840s, copper was being mined in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and the vast iron ore deposits of the Lake Superior district had been discovered during the period 1844 to 1866.

Professor Irving’s research concentrated on the geology of Wisconsin and on the metallic mineral resources of the Lake Superior region. Upon his premature death in 1888, he was succeeded by his brilliant student, Charles R. Van Hise. At the same time, the famous geologist Thomas C. Chamberlin became President of the University as well as an interested associate in the newly named Department of Geology and Mineralogy. Under Van Hise’s leadership the department was expanded in size by the addition of Rollin D. Salisbury and William H. Hobbs in 1891, J. Morgan Clements in 1893, and Charles Kenneth Leith in 1902. Graduate study in geology also was offered for the first time. Van Hise gained world-wide acclaim for his several detailed monographs on the Lake Superior iron ranges and for the innovative quality of his instruction in petrography, Precambrian geology, structural geology, and metamorphic petrology.

Van Hise became President of the University in 1903 and his student, C. K. Leith, became departmental chairman. Under Leith’s direction the department added faculty positions in many specialties. These appointments included Nevin M. Fenneman in 1903, Eliot Blackwelder in 1906, Lawrence Martin, Ray H. Whitbeck, and Alexander N. Winchell in 1908, Warren J. Mead in 1910, Edward Steidtmann in 1911, Fredrik T. Thwaites in 1912, Frank E. Williams and Ernest F. Bean in 1915, Vernor C. Finch and William H. Twenhofel in 1916, Armin K. Lobeck in 1919, R. Conrad Emmons, John W. Frey, and Glenn T. Trewartha in 1926, Clarence O. Swanson in 1927, Robert R. Shrock in 1931, Andrew Leith in 1934, Stanley A. Tyler and Norman D. Newell in 1937, and Hugh E. McKinstry in 1940. C. K. Leith remained the departmental chairman from 1903 to 1934. He was an especially effective teacher, and was the author of three widely-used textbooks. He is known particularly for his research on the Lake Superior iron ores and, during World War II, for his governmental consulting work on mineral supplies and economics.

The research of Van Hise and Leith on Precambrian rocks of the Lake Superior district brought international recognition to the department in the fields of structural and metamorphic geology. The “Wisconsin School of Structural Geology” was introduced to Britain and Europe in the late 1920s by Gilbert Wilson, a Wisconsin alumnus, and carried on by Wilson’s students and others. Mineralogy and optical mineralogy also thrived at Wisconsin in the 1920s and 1930s as a result of the textbooks of A. N. Winchell and the invention of the five-axis universal stage and the double-variation method of refractive index determination by R. C. Emmons. At the same time W. H. Twenhofel was a major factor in establishing the new field of sedimentation in this country as a result of a treatise and a textbook on sedimentology and his 13-year editorship of the new Journal of Sedimentary Petrology. Twenhofel also made noteworthy contributions in stratigraphy and paleontology, including a textbook with R. R. Shrock on invertebrate paleontology.

The department was reduced in size in 1929 by the formation of a separate Department of Geography having Whitbeck, Finch, and Trewartha as its nucleus. Again at the end of World War II, the retirements of Leith, Winchell, and Twenhofel and the resignations of Newell and McKinstry required a major rebuilding of the departmental faculty by R. C. Emmons, S. A. Tyler, and subsequent departmental chairmen. In the period from 1945 to 1951 faculty appointments included Parker D. Trask in sedimentology, Lewis M. Cline in stratigraphy, Louis B. Slichter, and Patrick M. Hurley in geophysics (1945), Marcus L. Thompson in paleontology and Reid A. Bryson in general geology and geomorphology (1946), Eugene N. Cameron in economic geology (1947), Lowell R. Laudon in general geology and stratigraphic paleontology and S. Sheldon Judson in general geology and geomorphology (1948), George P. Woollard in geophysics and Robert M. Gates in mineralogy and petrology (1949), and Sturges W. Bailey in X-ray crystallography (1951).

Research in geophysics actually had been developed at an early date from experience with the magnetic land surveys and from the interest of Van Hise and Leith in the structure of the earth and of W. J. Mead in the strength of materials and in engineering geology. Mead was responsible for installation of a high pressure apparatus in 1921 and a seismograph in 1928, but formal instruction in geophysics awaited the appointment of Slichter and Hurley in 1945 and of Woollard in 1949. Slichter and Hurley stayed at Wisconsin only briefly, but Woollard soon established geophysics as a major field within the department. He set up an international gravity standardization program and an Antarctic geophysics program. John C. Rose (1958), Robert P. Meyer and Charles R. Bentley (1962), and Ned A. Ostenso (1963) were added to the geophysics faculty. In 1967 the importance of geophysics was recognized formally by incorporation of the name into the departmental title.

A large number of faculty appointments were made in the period from 1955 to 1978. These included Roger L. Batten in paleontology (1955), Robert F. Black in glacial geology and geomorphology (1956), Robert H. Dott, Jr. in sedimentology and general geology (1959), Louis J. Maher, Jr. in general geology and palynology (1962), David L. Clark in paleontology and Ian W. D. Dalziel in structural geology (1963), Carl J. Bowser in geochemistry (1964), David A. Stephenson in hydrogeology (1965), Franklin D. Patton in engineering geology, J. Robert Moore in oceanography, L. Gordon Medaris, Jr. in igneous petrology, and Everett D. Glover in electron microprobe analysis (all in 1966), J. Campbell Craddock in structural geology and Sigmund I. Hammer in exploration geophysics (1967), Clarence S. Clay in marine geophysics and Lloyd C. Pray in carbonate petrology (1968), Charles V. Guidotti in metamorphic petrology, George H. Dury in geomorphology, Samuel B. Romberger in economic geology, and Klaus Westphal as Museum Curator (all in 1969), John S. Steinhart in geophysics and energy resources (1970), David M. Mickelson in glacial geology and geomorphology (1971), Herbert F. Wang in geophysics and rock physics (1972), Charles W. Byers in stratigraphy and paleoecology (1973), Mary P. Anderson in hydrogeology (1975), and Wayne C. Shanks in geochemical economic geology (1978).

This large number of faculty appointments was due to the desire to provide a well- balanced program of teaching and research for a growing population of students, plus the need for occasional replacements due to retirements, resignations, and deaths. By the 1970s the full- time faculty numbered 24, with approximately 100 undergraduate junior and senior majors and 100 graduate students. Since 1960 the department has ranked among the top four in the country in both number of Ph.D. degrees issued and in supplying undergraduate majors who went on to obtain the Ph.D. degrees at some institution.

Sufficient space to house all of its faculty, students, teaching, and research activities had been a continuing problem for the department since the days of C. K. Leith. This problem was finally alleviated in the period 1971-1974 by three generous gifts from an appreciative alumnus of the class of 1917, Lewis G. Weeks. The gifts allowed construction of Phase I of the Lewis G. Weeks Hall for Geological Sciences, primarily for research , in 1974 and of Phase II, primarily for teaching, in 1980. In addition, both Lewis G. Weeks and his brother, Albert W. Weeks from the class of 1923, made generous endowments to the department in order to ensure its continuing intellectual excellence.

History of Weeks Hall to 1980

Summarized from The History of Geology and Geophysics, S.W. Bailey, Editor, 1981

1960 to 1970 was a period of rapid expansion for the department of Geology and Geophysics. The early 60s brought general prosperity for the nation and for the state. University enrollment was increasing and departments were allowed to expand their facilities. Eighteen faculty members were added to the department and a number of people served as temporary instructors, lecturers or visiting professors. By 1964 enrollment in the beginning physical geology course was 1,977 students. A second laboratory for the beginning course was constructed in the basement of Science Hall and in 1964 the already crowded space at 917 University Avenue was remodeled for a third laboratory and a discussion room.

In 1961 Lewis Cline, as chairman, tried to persuade the University administration that the department warranted a new building. Documentation of the department’s space needs was prepared for a proposal to the National Science Foundation for funding of a building to be devoted entirely to research. It was hoped that the NSF building would serve as a first step to be followed by a state-financed instructional building. University President Conrad Elvehjem assured the department in July, 1962 that state funds would be made available to match any grant received from NSF, but Elvehjem died a few weeks thereafter and the department lost out in the competition within the University for matching funds.

2524 University Avenue
2524 University Avenue

The University administration had been convinced that the department’s space needs were genuine and a new building was approved as soon as funding could be secured. Contingent on outside funding for the research building, a state-financed building was also planned to house an instruction facility. An NSF proposal was submitted in 1967, but a federal economy drive resulting from the Vietnam War temporarily halted all funds for educational buildings. In 1970 only $0.5 million was approved, far less than was needed, and additional sources of funding had to be investigated.

Lewis G. Weeks
Lewis G. Weeks

S.W. Bailey, department chairman from 1968 to 1971, decided to approach the alumni for money and Lewis G. Weeks was suggested as a possible donor. Weeks was very appreciative of his education at Wisconsin and had returned to visit the department on many occasions. After 1965, when, as a consultant to the government of Australia, he had discovered substantial amounts of petroleum in Bass Strait off Australia, he had hinted to his friend Lewis Cline that he might be able to help the department if problems arose with the financing. Whether he would be willing to contribute as much as the needed additional $1.5 million remained to be determined.

Speaking to Weeks on behalf of the department were former faculty member Robert R. Shrock, Chancellor Edwin Young, University President Fred Harrington, and Robert Rennebohm, director of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. Weeks was receptive to the idea of a substantial donation but he pointed out it would probably have to be spread out over a period of years. Trustees of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation offered a five-year loan of the needed $1.5 million if Lewis Weeks would guarantee a gift of that amount. In March of 1971 Weeks agreed and assured the largest gift ever received to date by the University from an alumnus.

The building committee in 1972
The building committee in 1972

The Building Committee, David L. Clark (department chairman), S. W. Bailey and L. J. Maher, secured plans, construction bids, and the necessary approvals, and construction of Phase I of Weeks Hall was started on July 28, 1972, at 1215 West Dayton Street, with J.H. Findorff & Son of Madison as the general contractor.

Phase I was a complete and efficient research facility with department and faculty offices and library. However, there was no excess space and elementary education and the museum were still located in Science Hall.

Weeks Hall
Weeks Hall
Lewis Weeks and Anne Sutton Weeks
Lewis Weeks and Anne Sutton Weeks

The dedication of Weeks Hall was held on October 18, 1974, with Lewis G. Weeks and his family in attendance. In private Weeks said that it was the greatest thrill of his life to tour the completed building for the first time.

Phase II of Weeks Hall
Phase II of Weeks Hall

Between 1971 and 1974 Weeks donated $2.1 million worth of stock in Weeks Natural Resources, Ltd., which provided for the construction of Phase II of Weeks Hall. Construction began in 1979 and was finished in time to allow classes to meet there in the fall of 1980. This part of the building, physically connected to the south side of Phase I at the east end, houses an auditorium, labs, the museum, teaching facilities, student offices, and an extension of the library.

The fulfillment of many of the aspirations of the department have been made possible by the thoughtful gifts of Lewis G. Weeks, to whom both present and future generations of geologists and geophysicists at Wisconsin are indebted.