Day, David Talbot

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Day, David Talbot

(b. Rockport [now Lake wood], Ohio, 10 September 1859; d. Washington, D.C., 15 April 1925)

chemical geology.

Day’s father, Willard Gibson Day, was a not very prosperous Swedenborgian minister. His mother, Caroline Cathcart Day, was remarkably gentle and understanding; her son acquired these traits. The family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, when Day was quite young; and after completing high school there, he attended Johns Hopkins University, where he received the A.B. in 1881. Much interested in chemistry, he studied under Ira C. Remsen, to whom he was an assistant before and after receiving the Ph.D. in 1884. He supplemented a college fellowship by teaching chemistry at a private school. In 1886 he married Elizabeth Eliot Keeler.

From 1884 to 1886 Day was demonstrator in chemistry at the University of Maryland. Already interested in minerals, he wrote reports on manganese, chromium, and tungsten for the U.S. Geological Survey report on resources; and in 1885 he began his long career with that organization. When Albert Williams, Jr., the organizer of the statistical division of the Geological Survey, resigned in 1886, Day was appointed to be his replacement by the director, John Wesley Powell. For the census of 1890 he presented a detailed account of mineral statistics, the first ever gathered.

As the new field of petroleum geology came into prominence, Day took an active interest, soon turning to the study of oil shales. With E. G. Woodruff he completed the first survey of the Green River oil shale beds of northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah, and he urged the Geological Survey to make detailed maps of other, similar deposits. For the Navy he compiled figures on reserves of petroleum and oil shale. Although the discovery of vast reserves of petroleum has postponed the development of oil-shale reserves, Day’s carefully compiled estimates are the basis for their effective development.

His extensive interest in oil shales led to Day’s becoming consulting chemist in that subject for the Geological Survey in 1907; in 1914 he was transferred to the Bureau of Mines in the same capacity. In 1920 he left government service to conduct his own research into methods of distilling oil shale and into perfecting the cracking process for converting oil into gasoline and other petroleum distillates. For these studies he left Washington to establish headquarters nearer the subject, at Santa Maria, California. In 1922 he published his invaluable Handbook of the Petroleum Industry, a two-volume reference on production and use of oil.

Day was a member of several geological, chemical, and geographic societies and served as vice-president of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers in 1893 and in 1900.


I. Original Works. Day’s major written contributions were the exhaustive annual reports on mineral resources of the United States for the U.S. Geological Survey (1885–1912), consisting of thousands of pages of detailed summaries. His other scientific papers on individual minerals and resources were few. His culminating work was the compilation of the Handbook of the Petroleum Industry, 2 vols. (New York, 1922).

II. Secondary Literature. Only two accounts of Day’s life seem to be extant: a memorial by M. R. Campbell in Transactions of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers (1926), 1371–1373; and one by N. H. Darton in Proceedings of the Geological Society of America for 1933 (1934), 185–191. The latter includes a bibliography.

Elizabeth Noble Shor