J. Marvin Weller

1899 to 1976
Stratigraphy and Paleontology

J. Marvin WellerJ. Marvin Weller followed in the footsteps of his father, Stuart Weller, moving easily from graduation from the University of Chicago to the Illinois Geological Survey.

In an autobiographical sketch he wrote for his family, Weller mentioned being offered the job at the Illinois State Geological Survey by Morris M. Leighton during spring 1925. Weller said, "The Survey was a very small organization then ... Early on, Leighton called me into his office to ask me if I would like to handle a study of the state's Pennsylvanian paleontology. The last thing I had considered becoming was a paleontologist and without a moment's hesitation I answered, 'No.' I can close my eyes now and see Leighton sitting behind his desk, smiling and saying, 'We don't have to decide about it now, Marvin. Think it over and we'll talk about it again later.'" To make the story short, a paleontologist is exactly what he became, and it was during these early years that, among other accomplishments, Weller recognized the framework of the Pennsylvanian cycle that later became known as a cyclothem. He wrote, "In all my subsequent work at the Survey, I owe a tremendous debt to Leighton for listening sympathetically, giving me good advice, and permitting me an almost totally free hand to follow up the work that interested me most. I cannot imagine any other position I might have held that would have given me comparable opportunities."

While on leave from the Survey in 1937 to 1938, Weller headed a successful exploration into the Northwest Provinces of China that resulted in the discovery and development of China's first oil fields, which were instrumental in the eventual defeat of Japan. Weller left the Survey in 1945 to accept what had been his father's office as a professor of invertebrate paleontology at the University of Chicago. He retired as Director of the Walker Museum of Paleontology in 1965, did some work with the Field Museum in Chicago, and moved to the Bay Area in California in 1971 where he died in 1976.

Honored by: 
Harriet Weller (daughter) and Edward and Marjorie Foley (niece)
Citation Contributed by: 
Harriet Weller
J. Marvin Weller is recognized as one of the giants of the Survey. Additional details regarding his life and accomplishments may be found in his GSA memorial, v. 8, by H. B. Willman. For example, (1) he married Phyllis Gothwaite in 1923, his sweetheart since the seventh grade; (2) by 1927, when his father died, Marvin was Head of ISGS Paleontology and Stratigraphy Sections; (3) he and Harold Wanless introduced the term "cyclothem" jointly in 1930; (4) he completed and published much of his father's extensive mapping in southern Illinois; (5) he organized two symposia, one on Pennsylvanian cyclical sedimentation in 1930 and the other on Devonian stratigraphy in 1940; (6) he is particularly remembered for his contributions to Pennsylvanian and Mississippian stratigraphy; (7) he published a number of papers on Pennsylvanian invertebrate fossils; (8) he was the principal author in 1945 of the third edition of the Geologic Map of Illinois (his father was the principal author of the first in 1906); (9) as part of the World War II effort, he studied the fluorspar deposits in southern Illinois to help maintain their production; (10) he became Editor of the Journal of Paleontology for SEPM in 1942 and continued in that capacity at the University of Chicago after he left the Survey until 1952.