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«NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS VOLUME XVII—NINTH MEMOIR BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIR OF DAVID WHITE ...»

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NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS

VOLUME XVII—NINTH MEMOIR

BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIR

OF

DAVID WHITE

1862-1935

BY

CHARLES SCHUCHERT

PRESENTED TO THE ACADEMY AT THE AUTUMN MEETING, 1935

DAVID WHITE* 1862-1935 BY CHARLKS SCHUCHl'RT

ACHIEVEMENTS IN BRIEF

David White came to the United States Geological Survey in 1886 as a draughtsman; he left it in 1935 as America's foremost authority on Paleozoic stratigraphy based on fossil plants, as her leading expert on the origin and evolution of those two plant products, peat and coal, and as the «author of a theory of oil distribution that is basic to the petroleum industry. In addition, he achieved notable success as an administrator in the Survey and in the National Research Council, and he found time, withal, to be mentor and friend to hundreds whose affection for him found abundant and constant expression. As Mendenhall has so well said, "His was a career that came to full and happy fruition."

At the time White joined the Survey, and for some years afterward, there was marked conflict in America and in Europe between the correlations based on marine invertebrates and those based on plants, and there was lack of agreement even among the paleobotanists themselves, with the result that the correlations of the latter were usually accepted with reserve.

Much of this conflict was due to the belief that the rate of plant evolution had been variable in the different regions. Sensing that the actual cause for the disputes was poor field work, White in 1893 s a ' c ' that it would not be possible to make trustworthy correlations on the basis of the Carboniferous plants until these had been studied as to "their exact stratigraphic occurrence.... It is not enough to collect and label fossil plants merely by localities; the flora of each horizon in the section should be collected and studied by itself."

This conviction of White's had been strengthened by his three summers' work (1890-1893) relabeling the Lacoe ColIn the preparation of this memorial, the writer has had the assistance of Miss Olive C. Postley, Mrs. David White, Doctor W. C. Mendenhall, and Doctor Marius R, Campbell.

NATIONAL ACADEMY BIOGRAPHICAL, MEMOIRS VOL. XVII

lection, which contained 100,000 Carboniferous specimens, chiefly plants. By the time the task was completed, Campbell informed the writer, White had thoroughly satisfied himself that fossil plants could be depended upon for chronology and in geologic field work. White told the Director of the Surveyabout his conclusions, but Walcott insisted that, before anything was published, White should thoroughly test his conclusions in the field, where they could be checked by superposition.

Following out this plan, White was assigned to Campbell's field party in the spring of 1893, and they continued to work together until 1895. From lithologic evidence, the Coal Measures sequence as determined in Pennsylvania had previously been thought to extend in its entirety into the central and southern portions of the Appalachian trough. Campbell, being doubtful of this method, adopted in 1896 the correlations determined by White on the basis of the fossil plants that he had collected. Regarding this field work of White's, Campbell in a letter to the writer says : "We all shared White's enthusiasm, and I soon decided that I would rather trust to White's decisions than to my own tracing of formation outcrops."

Finally, White, Campbell, and Mendenhall published memoirs in which the results were decidedly different from those previously presented. The correlations of White have prevailed, based as they are on the correct paleobotanic succession, and the leading exponent of the earlier view magnanimously said in 1904: "There is no conflict between stratigraphy and paleobotany respecting the main horizons. The conflict was but apparent, and was due solely to hasty correlations by the earlyobservers." In later years, White held that his reputation as a stratigraphic paleontologist was based mainly upon his studies of these Pottsville floras. He revolutionized the general conception according to which the Pottsville, Allegheny, Conemaugh, Monongahela, and Dunkard (Permian) were supposed to continue down the entire length of the Appalachian trough, proving that all the Pennsylvanian beds in Alabama, probably exceeding 10,000 feet in thickness, the entire Pennsylvanian of Tennessee, and all but a rather small part of the northeastern Kentucky coal field are of Pottsville age.

From describing the Pennsylvanian floras and formations,

DAVID WHITE SCHUCHERT

White turned to the study of the origin and evolution of peats and coals, and soon became our foremost authority on this subject. From these deposits it was a natural step to the investigation of the origin and occurrence of petroleum, a study that led him to his famous hypothesis of the regional carbonization of Coal Measure strata, a theory which saved the oil companies millions of dollars that would otherwise have been spent in the drilling of dry wells. This "carbon ratio theory" is his greatest generalization, since it establishes a "dead line" beyond which oil pools will not be found. In the search for new oil territory in the years of the World War and afterward, White was of great service to his country. Finally, he was led to enter the field of geophysics, and he surprised the Fellows of the Geological Society of America in 1924 by taking, as the topic of his presidential address, "Gravity observations from the standpoint of the local geology." He was the first in this country to apply gravimetry to the detection of anticlinal structure.





Up to the summer of 1912, White's time was occupied almost entirely by research, and his results during that period are recorded in more than seventy-five reports, memoirs, and papers.

However, he had served since 1907 as head of the Survey's Section of Eastern Coal Fields, and the breadth of interest and soundness of judgment there shown were fatal to his chances for uninterrupted research in so large an organization, and accordingly he was drafted in 1912 to become its Chief Geologist. For ten years he held this important post, and a strenuous decade it proved to be, because of the World War. But even during" that period, when he was working late into the nights, he prepared more than a dozen scientific papers for publication. In response to his repeated urgings, he was relieved of direct administrative responsibility in T922, with the expectation that his personal research could be immediately resumed, but soon other administrative calls were made by the Division of Geology and Geography of the National Research Council, of which he was general chairman for three years, as well as chairman of its Committee on Palcobotany from 1928 to 1934; and by the National Academy of Sciences, which he served as Home Secretary for eight years and as Vice-president

NATIONAL, ACADEMY BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS VOL. XVII

for two years. He also served as Curator of Paleobotany in the United States National Museum. In consequence, his return to research in 1922 was nominal only.

The year 1930 had been highly productive in printed papers, and in the summer and autumn of that year White spent about two months in the Grand Canyon of Arizona and elsewhere at altitudes that were not beneficial to him, with the result that early in 1931 he suffered partial paralysis, and during most of that year lay between life and death. His strong constitution and his superb courage and optimism, however, once more put him back at his desk. His physical endurance was greatly diminished, but his mental powers continued unimpaired. How active he was during the next four years is shown by sixteen published and unpublished papers. He was at his desk on February sixth, 1935, but before dawn of the next day he had passed away in his sleep, death resulting from cerebral hemorrhage.

In his time, White published a little over two hundred reports, memoirs, papers, and notes, some of which will be analyzed on following pages. These relate to Paleozoic plants and stratigraphy (about 80 titles), coal (27), petroleum (39), "carbon ratio theory" (6), climates (9), biographies (6), and miscellaneous (36). Of Paleozoic plants he described or listed upward of one thousand forms, and of new species he named between one and two hundred.

David White was a member of the Geological Society of America (president 1923), the Paleontological Society (president 1909), the Society of Economic Geologists, the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, the Washington Academy of Sciences (president 1914), the Geological Society of Washington (president 1920), the Botanical Society of America, and the National Parks Association. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1912; was a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences ; and an honorary member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the London Institute of Petroleum Technologists, the Societe Geologique de Belgique, and the Geological Society of China. He served at various times on more than twenty important committees of the National

DAVID WHIT£ SCHUCHERT

Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, and scientific societies.

He received the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the Universities of Rochester and Cincinnati in 1924 and from Williams College the following year.

He was honored by the National Academy of Sciences with the award of its Mary Clark Thompson and Walcott gold medals, and by the Society of Economic Geologists with its Penrose gold medal; and in 1934 he was presented with the Boverton Redwood medal of the Institute of Petroleum Technologists of London.

We may well agree with Professor Berry's appraisal:

"No geologist of his time had a wider influence on the scientific life of the nation, or took a more active part in that of its capital."

ANCESTRY AND1 TRAINING

Charles David White was so christened at the wish of his mother, but from 1886 onward he preferred to be known simply as David White, that name being taken from his grandfather, Colonel David White (1785-1861), a pioneer and frontiersman, and a man of strong and somewhat eccentric character. His father, Asa Kendrick White (1817-1883), was born at Heath in northwestern Massachusetts, and later settled on a farm near Palmyra, New York. He was a descendant, through six removes, of John White (1602-1673), of South Petherton, Somersetshire, England, who, with his wife, Jean West, and their six children, came to New England and settled in Wenham (part of Salem) in 1638-1639. Miss Flora White of Plover Hill Earm, Heath, informed the writer that the White family was a virile one, producing farmers, educators, clergymen, and public officials, and has undergone but little change in characteristics and interests during the twelve generations since Thomas White, who died in England in 1549.

David White's mother was Elvira Foster (1820-1880), daughter of Hiram Foster (1794-1880) and Nancy Reeves.

Her paternal line goes back through six generations to Christopher Foster, who sailed from London for America on June 17, 1635, with his wife and three children, was made a freeman

NATIONAL ACADEMY BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS VOL. XVII

at Boston in 1637, and in 1651 removed to Southampton, Long Island, where he was town clerk for thirty-two years. The Foster family is likewise one of energy and integrity.

David White was born July 1, 1862, on his father's farm in Palmyra township, Wayne County, New York, one mile south of the Marion town line on the road from Marion to East Palmyra. -He was the youngest child of eight, six brothers and two sisters, all but one of whom attained the age of sixty or more. The family was Presbyterian, members of the church in East Palmyra. In Palmyra he attended the country school, in which at times an older brother or sister was a teacher. When he was eight or nine years old, the region received some hundreds of immigrants from Holland, among whom was Daniel Van Cruyningham, who worked as a hired man on the White farm but later graduated from the State Normal School and finally became principal of the Marion Collegiate Institute where David was receiving his college preparation. It was this man's wide intelligence and deep interest in the sciences that brought David, so he tells vis, to the study of the flowering plants of the region and developed in him a deep interest in botany.

One of his fellow students relates that David was a very tall, slender youth, who "always blushed as he arose to recite," that from the first he was considered an excellent student, and that as time passed he became popular with his classmates and the faculty.

Graduating from the Institute at the age of eighteen with much more Latin, Greek, and Trigonometry than was required for college entrance, White worked on the farm for two summers and taught school during the winters. Then, winning a county competitive scholarship at Cornell, he entered upon his college work in T882. With the desire for learning implanted by his mother and a keen zest for science developed by Principal Van Cruyningham, he found in Cornell "most favorable conditions for growth in the liberal and stimulating atmosphere." The course pursued was then called Natural Llistory, and included Botany. It required endless laboratory work of various kinds, leaving almost no time for athletics. The day was saved, however, by compulsory military drill for the first two years, to which White always acknowledged great indebtedDAVID WHITE 1 —SCHUCHERT ness for the health and the erectness of stature so characteristic of him all through life. In the same class was Robert T. Hill, of Texas; both took the same courses, both became members of the United States Geological Survey after graduation, and both found their wives at Cornell!



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