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Volume 23 Issue 7 (July 2013)

GSA Today

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Article, pp. 4-10 | Full Text | PDF (197KB)

1930 Presidential Address: Geology As An Agent In Human Welfare  1 

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R.A.F. Penrose Jr.

R.A.F. Penrose Jr.

Editor's Note

Richard Alexander Fullerton (“R.A.F.”) Penrose Jr. (17 Dec. 1863–31 July 1931) was an American mining geologist and entrepreneur. He served as the president of GSA in 1930, but perhaps his greatest contribution to the Society was his generous bequest of nearly US$4 million upon his death in 1931. His bequest continues to support GSA’s research grants program and other efforts of the Society. Many say that without this bequest, the Society as we know it would not exist. For example, income from the fund enabled GSA to purchase the land it now occupies on what is aptly named “Penrose Place” in Boulder, Colorado, USA.
Penrose earned a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1885. He performed geological surveys in Texas and Arkansas until 1892, and then traveled the U.S. as a mining surveyor. Most notable was his survey of Cripple Creek, Colorado, for the U.S. Geological Survey.

After his father died in 1908, Penrose made a complete career change, using his knowledge as a mining geologist to succeed as a mining investor and as an entrepreneur in other areas as well. Penrose refrained from purchasing or investing in mines in the Cripple Creek area because of what he saw as his ethical responsibility as a USGS employee, but did purchase and invest in mines elsewhere, including silver and copper mines in Arizona.

Having amassed considerable wealth in these efforts, Penrose established the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in 1927, a top honor accompanied by a gold medal. Penrose was very active in GSA: he was elected as a member in 1889, served on GSA Council from 1914 to 1916, was GSA vice president in 1919, a member of the Finance Committee from 1924 to 1929, and GSA president in 1930.

Penrose’s 1930 Presidential Address to the Society was published in the 31 March 1931 issue of GSA Bulletin (v. 42, p. 393–406) but has not been easily accessible in print and online until now. A transcription of text of that article is reproduced in the following pages.

Note: This information was drawn from the 1982 GSA Memoir, The Geological Society of America: Life History of a Learned Society, edited by Edwin B. Eckel (Memoir 155, p. 14–24).

1 Read before the Society on 29 Dec. 1930; manuscript received by the Secretary of the Society on 9 Jan. 1931; originally published in GSA Bulletin on 31 Mar. 1931, v. 42, p. 393–406.