Image from page 107 of "Bulletin" (1966-1972)
Authors: Field Museum of Natural History
Publisher: [Chicago] : The Museum
Contributing Library: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Digitizing Sponsor: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
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The Early History of the Geology Department Eugene S. Richardson..Jr.
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F\ileontology laboratory. 1899. When the Museum's Department of Geology sprang from the brow of Zeus in June 1894, it was not full- panoplied. The staff on Opening Day consisted of a scientist and a label writer, joined a month later by a second scientist. Oliver C. Farrington, curator of geology, was a young man of 30, with a B.S. from the University of Maine (earned at the age of .17) and a Ph.D. from Yale. "The Deacon" (as his Yale friends called him) was already as well acquainted with the Field Columbian Museum as anyone, for while at the U.S. National Museum in 1893 he had been assigned to help put together the geological exhibits for the World's Columbian Exposition, and had even come to Chicago to supervise their installation. At the close of the Exposition the collections that were transferred to the new Museum included those of the Exposition's Department of Mines, Mining and Metallurgy. It was the chief of that department, Frederick J. V. Skiff, who became the Museum's first director. To establish the new Department of Geology and to install its exhibits, Skiff called the man who already knew the material. From December 1893, when the first of the collections started arriving, to June 1894, when the Museum was formally opened, was an apallingly brief time for what had to be done. Geology exhibits were planned, created, and installed in 21 exhibit halls in those six months. Farrington and the label writer could have had virtually no time for other pursuits in their little three-room suite of office, library, and laboratory. The very name of the scrivener has been lost, and I'm not sure that any of his india-ink labels survive. But Farrington held the helm of this department for 39 years. His "Handbook and Catalogue of the Meteorite Collection" (August 1895) was the Museum's first scientific publication. The following winter he left on Geology's first "expedition," a trip to Mexico, where he climbed Popocatepetl and explored its crater, and climbed IxtacihuatI far enough to study its glacier. He brought back ores and rocks for the already growing collection. Ores and rocks were the usual focus of his field work, though for most of his three months in South Dakota in 1898 he was collecting fossil mammals in the Bad Lands, and once while collecting minerals in the interior of Brazil in 1923 he happened upon and collected a portion of a large fossil ground sloth. Farrington's broad interests in mineralogy are reflected in his 101 scientific and popular publications, but his particular enthusiasm is shown by the fact that 36 of these are on meteorites. He once remarked in print that "no survey of Nature can be considered complete which does not include an account of them." By the time of his death in 1933, Farrington had brought the Museum's representation of meteorite falls from short of 200 to almost 700, and the Museum had become recognized as an important center for meteorite study, with the most complete collection in the world. The junior member of the infant department, Henry W. Nichols, remained at the Museum for 50 years, until he retired at the age of 76 in 1944. He was a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and had been on its teaching staff before coming to the Museum. His field work, like Farrington's, usually involved ores and rocks, but he often May 1972
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