Becker, George Ferdinand

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Becker, George Ferdinand

(b. New York, N. Y., 5 January 1847: d. Washington. D.C., 20 April 1919)


The son of Alexander Christian and Sarah Tuckerman Becker, George Becker grew up in a home where serious intellectual endeavor was rewarded. His mother encouraged his early inclination toward science, introducing him to her friends in the Boston and Cambridge academic communities: Asa Gray, Louis Agassiz, Benjamin Peirce, Jeffries Wyman, and Benjamin Gould. It was only natural that he studied at Harvard. He earned advanced degrees in chemistry and mathematics at the University of Heidelberg and the Royal Academy of Mines, Berlin.

His formal education completed, Becker worked in the German Royal Iron Works for a year before returning to the United States. From 1874 to 1879 he was employed at the University of California at Berkeley as an instructor of mining and metallurgy; there he met Clarence King, first director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Becker joined the Survey and contributed detailed studies of mining districts—the monograph Geology of the Comstock Lode and Washoe District (1882) and the article “Reconnaissance of San Francisco, Eureka and Bodie Districts” (1880)—as well as broader accounts of the Pacific Coast ranges and the Sierra Nevada.

Becker’s great concern for mathematical, geophysical, and geochemical approaches to mining geology are evident in his field research. Several of his more general theoretical papers are devoted to geophysical problems, including the structure of the globe: “An Elementary Proof of the Earth’s Rigidity” (1890), “The Finite Elastic Stress-Strain Function” (1893), and “Finite Homogeneous Strain, Flow and Rupture of Rocks” (1893). Becker maintained that subsidence phenomena followed from the theory that the earth is solid throughout.

Becker’s interest in geophysics was manifested in deed as well as in published word. He was instrumental in establishing the Carnegie Geophysical Laboratory and served as director. He also left a sizable portion of his estate to the Smithsonian Institution to promote the advancement of geophysics.


Becker’s writings include “Reconnaissance of San Francisco, Eureka and Bodie Districts Nevada,” in U.S. Geological Survey, First Annual Report (Washington, D.C., 1880), pp. 34–37: “A Summary of the Geology of the Comstock Lode and Washoe District,” in U.S. Geological Survey, Second Annual Report (1880–1881); Geology of the Comstock Lode and Washoe District, Monographs of the U.S. Geological Survey, III (Washington, 1882), 1–422; “The Relation of Mineral Belts of the Pacific Slope to the Great Upheavals,” in Amercian Journal of Science, 3rd ser., 28 (1884), 209–212 “An Elementary Proof of the Earth’s Rigidity” ihid., 39 (1890) 336–352: “The Finite Elastic Stress-Strain Fuction,” ibid., 46 (1893) 337–356; “Finits Homogeneous Strain, Flow and Rupture of Rocks,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 4 (1896) 13–90; and “The Witwatersrand and the Revolt of the Uitlanders” in National Geographic Magazine, 7 (1896), 349–367, A five-page bibliography, compiled by Isabel P. Evans, may be found in Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, 21 (1926), 15–19

An article on Becker is George P. Merrill, “Biographical Memoir of George Ferdinand Becker,” in Memoris of the National Academy of Sciences, 21 (1926), 1–13

Matha B. Kendall