Johan A. Udden

1859 to 1932
Geological Mapping

At two years of age, Johan August Udden emigrated with his parents to Minnesota from Sweden. He completed his B.S. degree in 1881, having completed a classical program with emphasis in the natural sciences at Augustana College. Before earning his M.S. degree in 1889 from Augustana, Udden helped found Bethany College in Kansas and taught there for seven years. There, he decided to make geology his career, although he never had a formal course in geology. He returned to Augustana in 1888 as the first Oscar II Chair of Natural History. During the summers, he worked at the Iowa Geological Survey (1897 to 1903), University of Texas Mineral Survey (1903 to 1904), and the Illinois State Geological Survey (1906 to 1911). Because Udden was largely self-trained, he thought that his best contributions could come through close observation in neglected fields of geology. In Illinois, Udden studied surface and subsurface geology within a 30-mile radius of Rock Island in great detail. His work for the Illinois State Geological Survey included some of the earliest geological mapping in the Peoria and Belleville-Breese Quadrangles. He published five quadrangle maps before the use of automobiles. His work includes fundamental papers on the composition of clastic sediments (the Udden grade scale for siliciclastic sediments was his invention), the mechanical composition of wind deposits, the Pennsylvanian sedimentary cycles, and the examination of well cuttings. H. Foster Bain, under whom Udden served at the Illinois State Geological Survey, contributed these comments to his eulogy, "He was not only a man of high character and fine personality, but [he] had a singular ingenuity in finding methods of attack on a problem. I have often thought that was one compensation for his having had largely to train himself. If he had gone through the mill of scholastic training, who knows but his insight might have been blunted."

Udden left for the University of Texas in 1911 and was promoted to Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology and Technology in 1916, a position he held until his death. There, he was best known for his work using seismology, which led to the discovery and development of a Permian Basin oil field on university land in West Texas, enabling the University of Texas to become one of the wealthiest schools in the nation.

In recognition of his many scientific contributions, Udden was knighted with the Order of the North Star in 1911 by King Oscar II of Sweden. Other awards and recognition included four honorary doctorates and honorary memberships in the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists.

Honored by: 
Richard C. Anderson, a successor to Udden at Augustana College
Citation Contributed by: 
Beverly Herzog