Harold R. Wanless

1898 to 1970

Harold R. WanlessPaternal, kind, and enthusiastic, with a gifted memory and an encyclopedic knowledge of Pennsylvanian rocks, Harold Wanless, with wife Grace, was a legend in his own time. Born in Chicago in 1898, Wanless lost his father in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. His mother, Rhoda, who was a nature study teacher, brought him up alone. Her success shows in his advanced degrees-B.S., M.S., and Ph.D.—all at Princeton University. From his early years, he was skilled as a photographer. His M.S. thesis contained 123 superb photo graphic plates. In later years, he would publish on the geologic use of photos. His final career effort was Our Changing Shorelines with Francis P. Shepard in 1971, published posthumously.

His early years involved field work in the South Dakota badlands. After receiving his doctorate in 1923, Wanless joined the faculty at the University of Illinois to begin a lifetime career. From 1925 on, Wanless was commonly employed the Illinois State Geological Survey during summers as a field researcher. In this capacity, he immediately began mapping Pennsylvanian rocks for the Survey. At the same time, J. Marvin Weller started a long career at the Survey and began collecting Pennsylvanian fossils. Working together, Weller and Wanless soon recognized the cyclical nature of Pennsylvanian sedimentation whereupon they began to trace the cycles throughout Illinois and adjacent states. Eventually, they named them "cyclothems", a term and concept now accepted worldwide.

Among his many students, the weekend field trips led by Wanless were legendary. Tales of their experiences live on. A total teacher, Wanless, nevertheless, found time to be a highly productive researcher. Among his more than 150 reports, several were major Survey publications, including Bulletin 57, Geology and Mineral Resources of the Alexis Quadrangle, in 1929, and Bulletin 82, Geology and Mineral Resources of the Beardstown, Glasford, Havana, and Vermont Quadrangles, in 1957. Other important reports include Pennsylvanian Faunas of the Beardstown, Glasford, Havana and Vermont Quadrangles (Reports of Investigations 205, 1958) and Classification of the Pennsylvanian Strata of Illinois with R.M. Kosanke, J.A. Simon, and H.B. Willman (Reports of Investigations 214, 1960).

During his 44-year career at the University of Illinois, Wanless taught physical geology, vertebrate paleontology, sedimentology, sedimentary petrology, and a meticulous course on field geology and geological maps. In addition, he was founder of the first University of Illinois Geology Field Camp and was its director from 1944 to 1951. Such a career could have covered several lifetimes. In view of that, his major contributions to research at the Survey are amazing.

Honored by: 
University of Illinois Department of Geology (Stephen Marshak, Chair) and Ralph L. Langenheim, Jr.
Citation Contributed by: 
Charles W. Collinson