H. Foster Bain

1871 to 1948
First Director (Chief); Minerals

H. Foster BainHarry Foster Bain became the first Director of the Illinois State Geological Survey in November 1905. His 1931 account of the people and conditions under which the Illinois State Geological Survey was founded pays tribute to the vision, courage, and ability of the founders and political leaders of the time, but Bain himself was also a person of remarkable vision who was chosen to give the Survey its start because of his unique set of qualifications and his capacity for hard work. He set the Survey on the road toward fulfilling its mission of research and service.

Born in Seymour, Indiana, H. Foster Bain attended Moore's Hill College, Indiana; Johns Hopkins University; and the University of Chicago, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1897. He began his professional career at the Iowa Geological Survey, during which time he authored a number of county reports and eight papers on glacial and physiographic geology. He also published reports on the coals of Arkansas and on the Western Interior coal field. From 1901 to 1902, he worked at mining in Colorado before joining the U.S. Geological Survey in 1903 and publishing a series of reports on the fluorspar deposits of Kentucky and Illinois and the lead-zinc deposits of the Upper Mississippi Valley.

Upon joining the newly established Illinois State Geological Survey in November 1905, Bain built an organization designed to investigate all phases of geology and the important mineral resources of the state. He recruited a small permanent staff but utilized specialists and graduate students from several universities of the state, an arrangement that continues in one form or another to this day.

Bain thought that the Survey should serve both educational and economic needs and that the latter should be interpreted broadly. This resulted in a special series of educational bulletins and local material for use in Illinois classrooms. Topographic mapping was recognized as a basic necessity and a priority, and the cooperative agreement made with the U.S. Geological Survey has been maintained to the present day. Bain also called a meeting in 1906 in Chicago to organize the Mississippi Valley Association of State Geologists, which led to the formation two years later of the Association of American State Geologists. This association's mission was to promote the development of expertise and cooperation among state surveys and the independent thinking needed for scientific endeavors in the states' best interests, separate from those of the U.S. Geological Survey's interests, which were focused on federal priorities.

Bain arranged cooperative programs with federal and state agencies concerned with geology, mining, topographic mapping, reclamation of land subject to overflow, highway building, and water supplies. He also enlisted the good will of coal operators and miners, clay operators, railroad officials, engineering societies, the technical press, and high school teachers. The Survey quickly became known as an important agency for scientific research and distribution of information for the development of the state. Many other examples exist of Bain's vision and intense hard work toward the establishment and fulfillment of the Survey's goals for the future. Bain stepped down as Director of the Illinois State Geological Survey in 1909 to accept another challenging opportunity.

In Bain's words, "The whole State was ripe for a new study of its resources." It is a tribute to his visionary recognition and utilization of this readiness that the Survey was set on the excellent path it has followed throughout its first 100 years.

Honored by: 
William W. Shilts
Citation Contributed by: 
Myrna M. Killey
From Geological Society of America (GSA) memorial, Proceedings, May 949; from ISGS Bulletin 60, 1931; and from unpublished notes of M.W. Leighton, 2004.