James E. Hackett

1922 to 2003
Environmental Geology

James E. Hackett was born in and grew up in Wisconsin. He served in the Mountain Division of the U.S. Army during World War II and participated in the Italian campaign with the Ski Troops. After discharge, he entered the University of Wisconsin where he received Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in groundwater. Married during this period, he and his wife, Katie, had three children. He was employed by the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) in 1952 in the Groundwater Geology and Geophysical Exploration Section and concurrently began work on the Ph.D. degree at the University of Illinois under George B. Maxey. He received the Ph.D. degree in 1959. His dissertation was based on work on groundwater geology in Winnebago County he had conducted at the ISGS.

In 1959, Hackett was placed in charge of the ISGS activities at the newly opened Northeastern Illinois Field Office of the ISGS and Illinois State Water Survey for groundwater studies. Almost immediately he recognized that many of the problems of an urban area were not only obtaining groundwater supplies but also disposal of solid and liquid waste, foundation conditions, and land use conflicts. Early on, he collaborated with the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) to identify suitable landfill sites and practices, publishing a report on that research in 1963. His work with the McHenry County planners established the importance of soils, topography, and geology in identifying planning options. Out of these experiences and contacts, the use of geology in preserving the quality of the natural environment became so obvious to Hackett that it led him to coin the term environmental geology for these activities. The concept was immediately championed by then ISGS Chief, John C. Frye. Frye established the environmental geology program as one of the Survey's main research and service programs and initiated a new publication series called Environmental Geology Notes.

In 1965, Hackett was heavily involved with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the Corps of Engineers in the review of sites for the proposed 200 BEV research particle accelerator. Of six test sites drilled to bedrock as a part of a NIPC landfill study, a site near Batavia was selected in part because of its well-known and suitable geology. Hackett's work with the McHenry County planners led to a published circular, Geology for Planning in McHenry County, in 1969. That publication contained color-coded interpretive maps indicating increasing suitability for waste disposal, groundwater conditions, construction conditions, and availability of sand and gravel resources. The circular received Engineering Geology Division Burwell Award of the Geological Society of America.

As a result of Hackett's work and accomplishments, he was asked to serve as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and to industrial and engineering firms. Due to his interest in teaching and mentoring, in 1968, he accepted a position with the Department of Geological Sciences and Center for Urban and Regional Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, Virginia, positions he held for 20 years. However, his legacy has continued to benefit the Survey and the entire geological profession, both through the influence that he had on colleagues and the environmental geology program that he helped to initiate. His great insights on ways to present geology to users and his unselfish collaboration with colleagues form a lasting memory of James E. Hackett as a concerned professional and a caring human being.

Honored by: 
John P. Kempton, William G. Dixon, Jr., and Ross D. Brower
Citation Contributed by: 
John P. Kempton