Adolph C. Noé

1873 to 1939
Paleobotany

Adolf Carl Noé, who came to this country from Austria in 1899, entered the University of Chicago specializing in Germanic languages. He began his professional career in paleobotany at the age of 47 when he taught a course on fossil plants. With support of the Illinois and Kentucky Geological Surveys, he soon began investigating Pennsylvania fossil plants, which would aid in the correlation of coal-bearing strata. As a professor of paleobotany, he shied away from controversies. Noé devoted much of his time to teaching, which was reflected in the high regard his students had for him. He was largely responsible for the development of a number of distinguished paleobotanists.

During his fossil collecting trips, Noé made many friends among amateur collectors, mine operators, and miners, who called him “the flower man.” He worked for the Illinois State Geological Survey during summers in the l920s, and, as a goodwill ambassador, he brought back valuable information and collections of fossil plants and coal balls. His collections were divided between the Illinois State Geological Survey and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Noé reported extensively on the well-known Mazon Creek and Braidwood fossil flora from coal fields southwest of Chicago. He correlated the flora to similar ones in Europe in several short papers. His major report on the Pennsylvanian floras of northern Illinois, published by the Survey in l925 as Bulletin 52, was a valuable reference for collectors for many years. Because of his extensive knowledge of Pennsylvanian flora, Noé provided valuable assistance in the construction of the famous diorama of a Pennsylvanian coal swamp at the Chicago Field Museum.

Noé has been credited with recognizing in l922 the first occurrence of coal balls in this country. Coal balls, calcareous concretions in coal seams that preserve plant tissues, were widely studied in Europe. Although other paleobotanists had described fossil plants that were no doubt preserved in coal balls, they were not recognized as being from coal balls. In 1922, Gilbert Cady, a Survey coal geologist, collected coal balls from a mine in the Springfield Coal at Harrisburg. The coal balls were shown to Noé, who reported them at a meeting in Pittsburg. His publication of this discovery in several short papers resulted in the launching of the study of coal balls as a major branch of paleobotany.

Noé had a very distinguished appearance and a keen sense of humor. He was humble and was in great demand as a speaker and story teller. Noé was well liked and had a wide range of friends-from coal miners to influential leaders in industry and government, including the governor of Illinois.

Honored by: 
Morris W. Leighton and Russel A. Peppers
Citation Contributed by: 
Russel A. Peppers
Acknowledgments: 
A more complete biography of A.C. Noé, along with a list of his publications, can be found in Proceedings of the Geological Society of America for 1939, Pl. 11, p. 219B227.