Gilluly, James

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(b. Seattle, Washington, 24 June 1896; d. Denver, Colorado, 29 December 1980)


Gilluly’s father, Charles Elijah Gilluly, was de scended from a disciple of Robert Emmett who fled from Ireland to the United States in 1793 after Emmett was arrested and hanged. Louisa Elizabeth Briegel Gilluly, his mother, was a member of a Wuumlrttemburg family that found refuge in the United States in 1830, after participating in an abortive attempt to convert that German state to an auton omous republic. Thus the habit of bold and inde pendent thought was a part of his background and his upbringing.

Gilluly was a scholar and a leader; in high school he was elected captain of the football team as well as class valedictorian. He entered the University of Washington in 1915, but straitened financial cir cumstances compelled him to work both before en tering college and between his college years. Gilluly served in the U.S. Navy during 1917 and 1918 and then returned to the university. His courses followed an erratic path from civil engineering to economics and finally to geology. He received the B.S. degree in 1920.

After graduation Gilluly worked for a short time as a junior geologist for the National Refining company in Montana, then moved to the U.S. Geological Survey, where he remained, with brief interruptions. Until his retirement in 1966. The first interruption allowed him to take graduate courses part-time at Johns Hopkins until he was accepted in 1922 as a doctoral candidate at Yale. He received the Ph.D. in 1925 with a dissertation on the sedimentary rocks of the San Rafael Swell in Utah. Gilluly married Enid Franzier on 30 June 1925. They had two daughters. After his return to the U.S. Geological Survey, he conducted field studies in Alaska, Utah, Oregon, Arizona, New York, and the Panama Canal Zone. In 1932 Gilluly went to Europe to work at Innsbruck, Austria, with Bruno Sander on the newly developed field of petrofabrics. Before returning to the United States he traveled extensively in Eastern Europe to familiarize himself with global geological problems.

In 1938 Gilluly joined the faculty of the University of California at Los Angeles, where he became known as an inspiring but demanding professor. The entry of the United States into World War II interrupted his university career, and he transferred to the Geological Survey’s Military Geology Unit. He was assigned to the Southwest Pacific Command, where he studied the geology of possible invasion sites. He made a landing with the U.S. Marines on the island of Leyte, at a location he had recommended.

At the end of the war Gilluly returned to UCLA to resume his teaching career. During the McCarthy era, however, the university was forced to require loyalty oaths from the faculty; Gilluly, whose service and loyalty to the United States were unquestioned, resigned rather than accept this demeaning condition of employment.

In 1950 he returned to full-time work with the Geological Survey for what may have been his most productive years. In a 1949 paper he expressed his conviction that orogenies were not periodic events of short duration, interspersed with periods of qui escense, but a continuing process that could be observed through much of geologic time. This conclusion, bold for its time, had a significant impact on geological thought. In the words of a later biographer:

He questioned among other items:(1) the–accepted ideas on systematic connections among plutonism, volcanism, and tectonism; (2) the supposed universal association of orogeny and plutonism; and (3) the idea that radiometric ages of plutons also date the defor mation of their wall rocks. He proposed that subcrustal flow or a transfer of subcrustal and basal crustal material is needed to meet the rquirements of isostasy in changes like the uplift of the Colorado Plateaus province, and that other subcrustal flow was required to drag sialic material beneath the western continental margin of the United States to be available for remobilization into the overlying plutonic belt. (Smith. “Memorial to James Gilluly.” p.3)

Gilluly wrote a memoir, The Origin of Granite (1932), published by the Geological Society of America, and discussed the origins of plutonic granite rocks in the William Smith Lecture that he presented to the Geological Society of London. The origin of granite was important in the dispute between the followers of James Hutton and Abraham G, Werner over volcanism and neptunism at the end of the eighteenth century.

With A.O. Woodford and Aaron C. Water, Gilluly wrote a textbook, Principles of Geology, that ran through several editions and was used in many American colleges. Although he was a field geologist, Gilluly was a dedicated student of the processes of the earth and the principles that guided them. He was firm in his belief, however, that the processes and their inducted principles must be studied and tested in the field.

Gilluly received many honors, and many invitations to lecture at both American and European universities. He served successively as vice president and president of the Geological Society of America in 1947 and 1948 and received its Penrose Medal Distinguished Sevice Medal, the highest award given by the U.S. Department of the Interior. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and an honorary member of the Geological Society of London.


1. Original Works. Gilluly’s writings include A Re connaissance o the Point Barrow Regioin, Alaska, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 772 (1925), written and Sidney Page and W.T. Foran; “Analcite Diabase and Related Alkaline Syenite from Utah,” s in American Journal of Science 5th ser., 14 (1927), 199–211; “Sedimentary Rocks of the San Rafael Swell and Some Adjacent Areas in Eastern Utah,” in U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 150 (1928), 61–110, written with John B. Reeside; Geology and Oil and Gas Prospects of Part of the San Rafael Swell, Utah, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 806-C lpra1929); Copper Deposits near Keating, Oregon, ibid., 830–A (1931); Geology and Ore Deposits of the Stockton and Fairfield Quadrangles, Utah, U.S. Geo logical Survey Professional Paper 173 (1932); Replacement Origin of the Albite Granite Near sparta, Oregon, ibid., 65ndah81: “Mineral Orientation in Some Rocks of the Shuswap Terrane as a Clue to Their Metamorphism,” in American Journal of Science, 228 (1934), 182–201; “Keratophyres of Eastern Oregon and the Spilite Problem,” ibid., 229 (1935), 225–252, 336–352; Geology and Mineral Sources of the Baker Quadrangle, Oregon, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 879 (1937); “Emplacement of the Uncle Sam Porphyry, Tombstone, Arizona.” in American Journal of Science, 243 (1945), 643–666; “The Ajo Mining District, Arizona, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 209 (1946); “Distribution of Mountain Building in Geologic Time,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 60 (1949), 561–590; and “Subsidence in the Long Beach Harbor Area, California,” ibid., 461–529, written with U. S. Grant IV.

Later works are Principles of Geology (San Francisco, 1951, 4th ed., 1975), written with A. O. Woodford and Aaron C. Waters; “Geologic Contrasts Between Conti nents and Ocean Basins,” in Arie Poldervaart, ed., Crust of the Earth (A symposium), Geological Society of America Special Paper 62 (1955), 7–18; “The Tectonic Evolution of the Western United States,” in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London119 (1963), 133–174, the William Smith Lecture; “The Scientific Philosophy of G. K. Gilbert,” in C. C. Albritton, ed., The Fabric of Geology (Reading, Mass., 1963), 218–224: “Atlantic Sed iments, Erosion Rates, and the Evolution of the Continental Shelf: Some Speculations,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 75 (1964), 483–492; “Orogeny and Geochronology,” in American Journal of Science, 264 (1966), 97–111; “The Role of Geological Concepts in Man’s Intellectual Development,” in Texas Quarterly. 11, no. 2 (1968), 11–23; “Plate Tectonics and Magmatic Evolution,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 82 (1971), 2383–2396; and “American Geology Since 1910: A Personal Appraisal,” in Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Science, 5 (1977), 1–12.

II. Secondary Literature. On Gilluly’s life and work, see Thomas Nolan, “James gilluly,” in Biographical Memoirs, National Academy of Sciences. 56 (1987), 119– 132; J. Fred Smith, Jr., “Memorial to James Gilluly.” in Memorials of the Geological Society of America, 12 (1982); and Aaron C. Waters, “Portrait of a Scientist: James Gilluly, Pioneer of Modern Geological ideas,” in Earth Science Reviews, 5 (1969), A19–A27.

J. J. Lloyd

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