Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Charles Schuchert

Charles Schuchert was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 3, 1858 the oldest of six children of German emigrant parents, who had come to Cincinnati only a few years previously. His father, Philip, was a cabinetmaker and built up a successful business. At six, young Charles began attending Catholic parochial school, finishing at age twelve to go on to business school, to train as a bookkeeper for his father's business. While in school, Schuchert worked in his father's shop, first in the varnishing room. He did not last one year in business school, but continued working for his father, gradually working his way up to become general manager of his father's shop. In 1877 a fire destroyed the business, leaving Schuchert to support the family by working in other furniture factories.

Throughout his youth Schuchert collected fossils. In 1869 his father took him to see the museum of William Foster, who had a great quantity of fossil samples from around Cincinnati. Schuchert was amazed to learn that most of the fossils displayed were from under the sea that had once covered Ohio. In 1877 Schuchert met Edward Oscar Ulrich, who had a large collection of fossils and had done college work in paleontology. In 1881 Ulrich began publishing papers on local fossils and Schuchert helped him using lithography to illustrate his work. Ulrich began getting commissions to write and Schuchert helped him with the work. By this time Schuchert had collected a large collection of brachiopods, a phylum of marine animals with hard valves (shells), some collected on his own and some obtained from trading samples with Ulrich and other collectors.

In 1889 James Hall, the state paleontologist of New York came to Cincinnati in order to prepare a work on brachiopods. Hall met with Schuchert and impressed with his collection offered him a position as his assistant. Schuchert went to Albany, New York with Hall and assisted him in preparing his publications. After working in Albany, Schuchert briefly assisted N. H. Whinchel in Minneapolis, and then in 1893 joined the staff of the U.S. Geological survey in Washington. He worked for the Geological Survey until 1904, when he was appointed professor at Yale University. Shuchert remained at Yale until his retirement in 1926.

Schuchert's initial interest in brachiopods widened to the paleontolgic record as his career developed. From this resulted a series of paleogeographic maps, prepared by Schuchert, that showed the distribution of land and sea during the geologic past. In 1910 he published Paleogeography of the United States which was illustrated with a series of fifty maps. Schuchert continued working on these maps and by 1913 the number had grown to 85, eventually reaching 130. The closing years of Schuchert's life were spent preparing Historical Geography of North America, two volumes of which were published and one was in preparation at the time of his death.

Honors won by Schuchert include election as president of the Paleontological Society in 1910 and president of the Geological Society of America in 1922. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1911 and won the Mary Clark Thompson Medal from the N.A.S. and the Penrose Medal from the Geological Society of America in 1934. He won honorary degrees from New York, Yale, and Harvard Universities. The Paleontological Society each year presents the Charles Schuchert Award each year to the person, under 40, whose work reflects excellence and promise in the field of paleontology.

Schuchert died on November 20, 1942.


Knopf, Alfred;"Charles Schuchert: 1858-1942" in Biographical Memoirs (1952) National Academy Press

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