Israel Charles White

Active Founder (sources: Fairchild, 1928, 1932). —By Peter Lessing.

Personal. Israel Charles White was born on November 1, 1848, in Monongalia County, Virginia (now West Virginia), and died from a cerebral hemorrhage on November 25, 1927, in Baltimore, Maryland.

White’s first American ancestor, of English descent, arrived in Maryland in 1639. The youngest of five children, White spent his youth on the family farm and walked three miles to school. He graduated from West Virginia University with A.B. (1872) and A.M. (1875) degrees in geology. He received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Arkansas (1880), from West Virginia University (1919), and from the University of Pittsburgh (1922). White was married three times. He married Emma McClane Shay in 1872. They had one daughter before Emma died in 1874. He then married Mary Moorhead in 1878. They had one son and four daughters before Mary died in 1924. White married his third wife, Julla Posten Wildman, in 1925. They had no children, and she survived him.

His geological experience began with the Second Geological Survey of Pennsylvania (1875–1883) and continued with the U.S. Geological Survey (1883–1888). During this time he was also Professor of Geology at West Virginia University (1877–1892). White was essentially self-employed between 1892 and 1897; he invested in oil leases, coal, telephones, glass works, real estate, banks, and consulted at very high fees, thus becoming a millionaire. He was in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) during 1897 as a delegate to the International Geological Congress when West Virginia appointed him the first State Geologist. He retained this position, without pay, for 30 years, until his death.

Professional. White contributed significantly to the geology of coal, oil, and gas in the Appalachian Basin. He promulgated the “anticlinal theory” of oil and gas accumulation and literally made his personal fortune drilling the anticlines. As State Geologist of West Virginia, White initiated topographic and geologic mapping at a scale of 1:62,500 for the entire state. The mapping was completed in 1939. Although long out of print, the maps and accompanying text are still used today. He also developed ten editions of a statewide mineral-resources map at a scale of 1:500,000. White wrote or supervised the preparation of more than 200 publications and maps that dealt primarily with coal and petroleum in the Appalachians.

White was the Chief Geologist for the Brazilian Coal Commission (1904–1906), for which he evaluated that country’s coal and oil reserve. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt requested him to talk on “The Waste of Our Fuel Resources” at the Conference of Governors on the Conservation of Natural Resources held at the White House. In addition to his service to GSA (see below), White was a charter member and served as President of American Association of Petroleum Geologists (1919–1920), Vice-President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1906), and President of Association of American State Geologists (1913–1915).

Role as a Founder. White was in Ithaca, New York, on December 27, 1888, as one of the original 13 founders of GSA. White’s stature with regard to Appalachian coals and hydrocarbons was firmly established by this time, but his presence at Ithaca was certainly influenced by his mentor, J.J. Stevenson, another of the original 13. At the Ithaca meeting, White was appointed to the publication committee along with W.M. Davis, J. Le Conte, W J McGee, and N.H. Winchell. Perhaps his most significant contribution to GSA was his service as Treasurer (1892–1906). During these 15 years, he served without any compensation to himself or for the running of the office, and he raised the publication fund to $10,000 by investing in first-class interest-bearing securities. He also served as a Councilor (1891), as First Vice-President (1912), and as President (1920, while also President of AAPG).

Here is a link to the Presidential Address of Israel C. White read before the Society 28 December 1920 and published in GSA Bulletin, v. 32, p. 171–186 (31 March 1921).