George E. Ekblaw

1895 to 1972
Engineering Geology

George E. EckblawGeorge E. Ekblaw was born near Rantoul, Illinois, on June 1, 1895. He earned an A.B. degree in 1922 and an M.A. in 1923 from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. degree in 1927 from Stanford, all in geology. His master's degree was based on field work for the Illinois State Geological Survey where he started as a field assistant in 1920. In 1927, Ekblaw was assigned to the newly formed Division of Engineering Geology, thought to be the first such department in the world. The Division was formed in response to the large amount of advice the Survey was providing for civil engineering projects of roads, dams, landslides, and rock materials suitable for construction in the state.

During the 1920s, under two large bond issues, the state started paving highways without consideration of unfavorable geologic conditions, which resulted in landslides, pavement settlement, excessive cracking, and heaving and disruption by frost. Investigations and observations by Ekblaw led to recommendations to raise the roadbeds on subgrade materials to avoid soil problems, improve drainage, and help keep snow off the highways.

During 1929 and 1930, a program for the Division of Highways produced reports and maps for 85 of the state's 102 counties. These documents summarized the topography, drainage, bedrock, and glacial deposits with an emphasis on bedrock and aggregate resources for construction. The maps, at a scale where 1 inch on the map represented 1 mile on the ground, were used to produce a glacial map of Illinois, the first such map since Leverett's 1899 map. The Ekblaw map was used for 40 years until new topographic maps and other studies permitted improvements in 1970.

In 1931, Ekblaw became the head of the Engineering Geology Division. The emphasis of the Division's engineering geology service was on the many dams planned and constructed under the Federal Public Works Administration engineers in Illinois. The 1940s saw a large initiative by the Illinois Department of Conservation for recreational lakes, which led to the investigation of hundreds of sites throughout the state. The 1950s services included work on the excavation of underground chambers for storage of liquid petroleum products.

Ekblaw continued as Section Head until his retirement in 1963. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers from 1945 to 1953 and its President in 1950.

Honored by: 
Robert A. Bauer and Paul Du Montelle
Citation Contributed by: 
Robert A. Bauer