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Foshag, William Frederick


(b. Sag Harbor, New York, 17 March 1894; d. Westmoreland Hills, Maryland, 21 May 1956)

geology, mineralogy.

Foshag was the son of William Frederick Foshag and Joanna Eva Riegler. The family moved to California in his early youth, and he entered the University of California with chemistry as his major. He Received the A.B. in chemistry in 1919 and the Ph.D. in 1923. While at the university he came under the influence of the distinguished mineralogist Arthur S. Eakle, who aroused in him an intense and abiding interest in minerals. In 1917 and 1918, while still an undergraduate, Foshag worked in the laboratory of the Riverside Portland Cement Company at Crestmore, California, Whose limestone quarry was an outstanding mineral locality and provided the material for several of his early publications on mineralogy.

In 1919 he was appointed assistant curator in the Division of Mineralogy and Petrology at the Smithsonian Institution, where he remained for the rest of his life. On 5 September 1923 he married Merle Crisler; they had one son.

In 1929 he was promoted to curator and in 1948 to head curator, of the Department of Geology, a position he held until his death.

Foshag was known as a mineralogist, but he was a geologist, chemist, volcanologist, gemologist, and student of meteorites as well. During his many years of service to the Smithsonian Institution the mineral collection was enormously enriched, both by his work in the field and by some notable bequests that raised it from comparatively undistinguished stature to one of the world’s great collections. Most notable of these bequests was the collection (16, 000 carefully selected specimens) of Colonel Washington A. Roebling (1926); this bequest was undoubtedly the fruit of the friendly relationship Foshag had with Roebling. Roebling’s son, John A. Roebling, established an endowment fund of $150, 000, the income of which has been used for the continued growth of the Roebling collection.

Foshag’s own collecting and research activities were largely devoted to the study of mineral and mining localities in the western United States and in Mexico. His knowledge of Mexico was utilized by the U.S. Geological Survey during World War II, when he headed a cooperative project with the Mexican authorities for the discovery and development of strategic mineral deposits in that country. In 1943 a new volcano, Paricutín, erupted in central Mexico, and Foshag followed the course of the activity from its inception until Paricutín became extinct in 1952, a notable first in volcanology.

In 1946 Foshag and his colleague Edward P. Henderson spent more than four months in Japan supervising the grading, classifying, and evaluation for the U.S. government of some $25 million worth of diamonds that the Japanese people had given to their government to aid in the war effort.

Foshag had a deep interest in the archaeology of Latin America and made a collection of artifacts and related materials that was later acquired by the National Gallery of Art. He acted as a consultant to Robert Woods Bliss in matters relating to jade and other archaeological materials, and he prepared the foreword for the catalog of the Bliss collection. He also had a keen interest in Oriental porcelains, especially those from China and Japan.

Foshag was a fellow of the Geological Society of America, a charter fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America, and president of the latter in 1940. He was an honorary member of the Geological Society of Mexico. The mineral foshagite. Ca4Si3O9 (OH)2, from Crestmore, California, was named in his honor by A. S. Eakle.


I. Original Works. Foshag’s bibliography comprises more than 100 publications, including descriptions of thirteen new minerals. The following is a small selection: “The Origin of the Colemanite Deposits of California,” in Economic Geology, 16 (1921), 199–214; “Saline Lakes of the Mojave Desert Region,” ibid., 21 (1926), 56–64; “Gems and Gem Minerals,” in Minerals from the Earth and Sky, pt. 2, Smithsonian Scientific Series, no. 3 (1929), 169–332, written with George P. Merrill; “The Ore Deposits of Los Lamentos, Chihuahua, Mexico,” in Economic Geology, 29 (1934), 330–345; “Problems in the Study of Meteorites,” in American Mineralogist, 26 (1941), 137–144: “Tin Deposits of the Republic of Mexico,” in U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 935-C (1942), 99–176; “Exploring the World of Gems,” in National Geographic, 98 (1950), 770–810; “Mineralogical Studies on Guatemalan Jade,” in Antropologia e historia de Guatemala, 6 , no. 1 (1954); and “Birth and Development of Paricutín Volcano, Mexico,” in U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 965D(1956), 355–489.

II. Secondary Literature. On foshagite, see Arthur S. Eakle, in American Mineralogist, 10 (1925), 97–99. For an assessment of Foshag’s work, see E. H. Kraus, “Presentation of the Roebling Medal of the Mineralogical Society of America to William Frederick Foshag,” in American Mineralogist, 39 (1954), 293–295. For an obituary and bibliography, see W. T. Schaller,” Memorial of William Frederick Foshag,” in American Mineralogist, 42 (1957) 249–255.

Brian Mason

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