Foerste, August Frederick

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Foerste, August Frederick

(b. Dayton, Ohio, 7 May 1862; d. Dayton, 23 April 1936)

invertebrate paleontology, stratigraphy.

The son of John August and Louise Wilke Foerste, A. F. Foerste attended public schools in Dayton, graduating from the old Central High School in 1880. He then taught for three years in a small country school near Centerville, Ohio, before entering Denison University, where he received a B. A. degree in 1887. For graduate work he went to Harvard University, where he studied physical geography under W. M. Davis and petrography under J. E. Wolff, receiving the M.A. in 1888 and the Ph.D. in 1890. During this time he also served in the U.S. Geological Survey as part-time assistant to Nathaniel Shaler and Raphael Pumpelly.

Foerste’s doctoral thesis in petrography led to advanced studies in that subject for the next two years at the University of Heidelberg and the Collège de France. He devoted vacations, as before, to work with the Geological Survey, apparently planning a career in that organization. In 1892, when its appropriation was drastically reduced, he had to seek employment elsewhere; for a year he worked as tutor to Pumpelly’s children.

In 1893 Foerste returned to Dayton to teach science in the Steele High School, where he remained until his retirement in 1932, at the age of seventy. There were many invitations to teach in colleges and universities, but he felt that his position in Dayton, while providing him with a living as well as opportunities for service to burgeoning technological industries, interfered less with his research than would a more prestigious position elsewhere. During vacations he was employed at various times in the state geological surveys of Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky, and by the Geological Survey of Canada. Beginning about 1920, his summers were spent at the U.S. National Museum, and after retiring he moved to Washington to continue research there as associate in paleontology. Foerste never married. His home in Dayton had been with his widowed sister and her three children, and it was while visiting them that he died of a heart attack.

Foerste was a fellow of the Geological Society of America and one of the founders of the Paleontological Society, which he served as president in 1928 and later as representative on the National Research Council. He was also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ohio Academy of Science, of which he was president in 1931, and the Washington Academy of Science. The Engineers Club of Dayton presented him with an honorary membership in 1926, and Denison University conferred an honorary Sc.D. on him in 1927.

Foerste’s scientific interests were first directed toward flowering plants. Before graduating from high school he had accumulated a herbarium of over a thousand species, all collected within ten miles of Dayton. Attending a lecture by Edward Orton of Ohio State University while still in high school, he first learned the meaning of the word “fossil” and that fossils could be found in the nearby quarries. His interest in paleontology thus awakened, he collected fossils almost daily in the Soldier’s Home quarry. Then, during the three years he taught near Centerville, he found many additional specimens in rocks of the same age in a large quarry in that locality. When he entered college he thus had a remarkably complete collection of fossils from the Silurian formation in the “Clinton group,” which he later named the “Brassfield.” The description of this fauna became the subject of his first papers and started him on his long-continuing specialization in early Paleozoic paleontology and stratigraphy.

At the beginning of Foerste’s sophomore year at Denison, C. L. Herrick joined the faculty there as professor of natural history. Herrick was only four years older than Foerste, and the two spent much time together in geological fieldwork. Herrick shared with Foerste his plans for a new scientific publication, and the first issue of the Bulletin (now Journal) of the Scientific Laboratories of Denison University (1885) consists of one paper by Herrick and two by Foerste. In subsequent years about half of Foerste’s scientific papers appeared in that publication, the latest during the month of his death. While he was responding to Herrick’s influence, Foerste also became acquainted with E. O. Ulrich, with whom he had a lifelong friendship and close association. This had much to do with the devotion of his life to paleontology and stratigraphy rather than to petrography, which had attracted him while at Harvard (although even then he had close contact with Alphaeus Hyatt, curator of paleontological collections in the Boston Museum of Natural History).

Notable among Foerste’s many contributions to paleontology was the restudy, redescription, and illustration of hundreds of species of invertebrate fossils inadequately described and figured by earlier writers. Of at least equal value was his systematic study of Ordovician and Silurian cephalopods, in which he emphasized the significance of internal structures rather than relying only on external forms.


The biography by R. S. Bassler in Proceedings of the Geological Society of America, 1936 (1937), pp. 143–156, includes a bibliography of 135 titles.

The following is a selected bibliography of Foerste’s writings: “The Clinton Group of Ohio,” in Bulletin [Journal] of the Scientific Laboratories of Denison University, 1 (1855), 63–120; 2 (1887), 89–110, 140–176; 3 (1888), 3–12; “Preliminary Description of North Attleboro Fossils,” in Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College, no. 16 (1888), pp. 27–41, written with N. S. Shaler; “Notes on Clinton Group Fossils, With Special Reference to Collections From Indiana, Tennessee, and Georgia,” in Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History, 24 (1889), 263–355; “Fossils of the Clinton Group in Ohio and Indiana,” in Report. Ohio Geological Survey, 7 (1893), 516–601; and “A Report on the Geology of the Middle and Upper Silurian Rocks of Clark, Jefferson, Ripley, Jennings, and Southern Decatur Counties,” in Indiana Department of Geology and Natural Resources, 21st Annual Report (1897), pp. 213–288.

See also “Geology of the Narragansett Basin,” Monographs of the U.S. Geological Survey, no. 33 (1899), written with N. S. Shaler; “Silurian and Devonian Limestones of Western Tennessee,” in Journal of Geology, 11 (1903), 554–583, 679–715; “The Silurian, Devonian, and Irvine Formations of East-Central Kentucky,” Bulletin of the Kentucky Geological Survey, no. 7 (1906); “Strophomena and Other Fossils From Cincinnatian and Mohawkian Horizons,” in Bulletin of the Scientific Laboratories of Denison University, 17 (1912), 17–172; and “The Phosphate Deposits in the Upper Trenton Limestones of Central Kentucky,” in Bulletin of the Kentucky Geological Survey, 4th ser., 1 (1913), 387–439.

Of further interest are “Notes on the Lorraine Faunas of New York and the Province of Quebec,” in Bulletin of the Scientific Laboratories of Denison University, 17 (1914), 247–339; “Upper Ordovician Formations in Ontario and Quebec,” Memoirs of the Geological Survey Branch, Department of Mines, Canada, no. 83 (1916); “The Generic Relations of the American Ordovician Lichadidae,” in American Journal of Science, 4th ser., 49 (1920), 26–50; “Notes on Arctic Ordovician and Silurian Cephalopods,” in Journal of the Scientific Laboratories of Denison University, 19 (1921), 247–306; “Upper Ordovician Faunas of Ontario and Quebec,” Memoirs of the Geological Survey Branch, Department of Mines, Canada, no. 138 (1924); “Actinosiphonate, Trochoceroid, and Other Cephalopods,” in Journal of the Scientific Laboratories of Denison University, 21 (1926), 285–383; “American Arctic and Related Cephalopods,” ibid., 23 (1928), 1–110; “Three Studies of Cephalopods,” ibid., 24 (1930), 265–381; “New Genera of Ozarkian and Canadian Cephalopods,” ibid., 30 1935), 259–29, written with E. O. Ulrich; and “Silurian Cephalopods of the Port Daniel Area on Gaspé Peninsula in Eastern Canada,” ibid., 31 (1936), 21–92.

Kirtley F. Mather