Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 1:15 PM


BRICE, William R., 116 Luna Lane, Johnstown, PA 15904-3068,

After several years of back and forth discussion among the leading geologists of the United States, on December 27, 1888, the Geological Society of America was founded and James Hall was selected to be its first president. The organizational meeting was held at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Henry S. Williams, a Cornell Professor, was the host for the meeting, and was elected the first GSA Treasurer. Thirteen people were present, but ballots were received from 72 others who could not attend. This was not the first geological organization in the U.S., but the move was prompted by the major expansion of geological activity in the decades following the Civil War and the difficulty of existing as part of another larger scientific organization. The time was right for a separate and independent body of geologists.

But why did James Hall rise to the top of the list? By the late 1880s Hall, born in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1811, was at the peak of his geological career. His academic training had been at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) working in chemistry under Amos Eaton. After a brief time as professor of chemistry at RPI in 1835, the following year he was hired by Ebenezer Emmons, one of his former teachers at RPI, as an assistant in the Second District (northern) of the original New York Geological Survey. Emmons insisted that Hall publish his work under his own name, thus boosting young Hall’s career, even though the original work was only of pedestrian quality as he had little interest in crystalline rocks. He was moved to head the Fourth District in up-state New York with its wealth of sedimentary rocks filled with fossils; and Hall had found his niche. In the years that followed Hall became the premier paleontologist for the Devonian rocks of the state and published literally volumes of descriptions and treatises. He served as State Paleontologist from 1843 until his death in 1898. He also was the Director of the New York State Museum of Natural History and State Geologist, a position he also held from 1843 until his death. So who better to lead this new organization than James Hall, the “Grand Old Man” of geology.