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Ulrich, Edward Oscar


(b. Cincinnati, Ohio, 1 February 1857; d. Washington, D.C., 22 February 1944)

stratigraphy, paleontology.

Ulrich’s career was typical of those nineteenth-century American paleontologists who, beginning as self-taught amateur collectors, reached professional status through initial independent publication, then commissions for state or territorial geologic surveys, and finally, a permanent position with the federal survey, a large museum, or a major university.1

Ulrich was one of eight children of an immigrant Alsation carpenter,2 later a contractor in the Cincinnati area. Ulrich’s formal education was limited to intermittent terms at two Ohio colleges during the 1870’s.3 He resumed carpentry with his father and continued collecting from the extensive and highly fossiliferous Upper Ordovician rocks of Cincinnati. In 1877 the Cincinnati Society of Natural History recognized his abilities with a small-salaried curatorship. He resigned the post in 1879 and spent a lively two years superintending silver mines near Boulder, Colorado.

Relocated at Newport, Kentucky, by 1884 Ulrich had published in the Journal of the Cincinnati Society of Natural History six brief paleontological papers and one major systematic investigation of American Paleozoic bryozoans, to which he expanded the new techniques of thin sections.4

With contracts from the Illinois and Minnesota geologic surveys for further studies of Paleozoic bryozoans, sponges, and mollusks, he combined efforts in 1885 with Charles Schuchert.5 Both men became able lithographic illustrators.

Ulrich made fundamental taxonomic contributions to a dozen major marine invertebrate taxa. Preparation of bryozoan collections for the British Museum (Natural History) and the museum of the University of Munich led to his contributions on the bryozoans and ostracod crustaceans in the first English edition of Karl A. von Zittel’s Text-book of Palaeontology, Charles R. Eastman, trans. (London, 1896). Between 1885 and 1897 Ulrich also described Paleozoic faunas and conducted stratigraphic studies for the Ohio and Kentucky surveys, served five years as curator of geology for the Cincinnati Society, and for nine years was associate editor of the American Geologist.

In 1897 Ulrich’s reputation brought him a temporary appointment to the U.S. Geological Survey. This post, which became permanent in 1901, marked a significant shift in research emphasis from paleontology to stratigraphy. Relocation at Washington, D.C., renewed Ulrich’s association with Schuchert until 1904; they wrote “Paleozoic Seas and Barriers in Eastern North America” during this interval. When Raymond Smith Bassler, who had been Ulrich’s assistant during the previous decade at Newport, joined the U.S. National Museum, they continued close professional ties in major studies of bryozoans (1904).6 Paleozoic ostracods (1923), and the enigmatic conodonts (1926).

In later years Ulrich considered himself first and foremost a stratigrapher and believed stratigraphic syntheses to be his most lasting contributions. Geologic mapping experience in the Upper Mississippi Valley7 and Appalachians culminated in the article “Revision of the Paleozoic System” (1911). Among modifications and proposed additions to the standard geologic time scale were two new lower Paleozoic time-stratigraphic units of systemic rank, the Ozarkian and Canadian, inserted between the restricted Cambrian and Ordovician systems.

In his publications on stratigraphic methods and philosophy, Ulrich wholeheartedly adopted Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin’s concept that records of diastrophic events were the natural and ultimate bases for defining and correlating stratigraphic units. In Ulrich’s view, the differential isostatic adjustments yielded oscillatory littoral displacements, which produced abrupt discontinuities in geologic and faunal sequences deposited in multiple isolated epicontinental basins. These basins were alternately flooded from opposite directions by oceans flanking the North American continent. Rock units and their faunal assemblages bounded by these disconformities were discontinuous both spatially and temporally. Mutually exclusive, they were terminated by nondeposition rather than facies–lateral gradation to coeval units, formed in different depositional enivronments, an alternate concept popularized in the United States by Amadeus William Grabau8 and adopted by Schuchert.

Ulrich’s stratigraphic models were initially of value in interpreting the midcontinent region but failed to explain the more complex Appalachian geology. Ulrich used index or guide-fossil techniques at the most discrete taxonomic levels to make the initial identifications of the datum planes, not to define or correlate tectonic event-based broader stratigraphic units. He considered recognition of the introduction of new generic types a complementary and less than precisely coincident verification of physical boundaries, in contrast to Schuchert’s insistence that the nonrepetitive aspect of organic evolution made fossils fundamental determinants of time and event.

Albertina Zuest, whom Ulrich married in Cincinnati in 1886, died in 1932 after a decade of disabling illness; their union was childless. The following year he married Lydia Sennhauser, his first wife’s nurse during the early stages of her illness. Ulrich was appointed associate in paleontology at the U.S. National Museum in 1914, and occupied that position after his formal retirement from the U.S. Geological Survey in 1932. He continued his studies, accumulating paleontologic evidence for his Ozarkian and Canadian systems, and supplying stratigraphic data for systematic investigations contributed mostly by younger museum associates. These studies failed to provide an acceptable paleontological base9 for Ulrich’s systemic units; the Ozarkian is not part of present usage, which considers the Canadian the basal series of the Ordovician system.

Ulrich was an eminent authority on American lower Paleozoic stratigraphy during the first three decades of the twentieth century. His vast experience and encyclopedic knowledge enabled him to dominate the discipline. Perhaps his most important influence during his years on the U.S. Geological Survey was the controversial aspect of his research and his disputative nature, which caused contemporaries to reexamine critically their own investigations.


1. Raymond Smith Bassler, “Development of Invertebrate Paleontology in America,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 44 (1933), 268.

2. Edward was the eldest of the five children born to Charles Ulrich and his first wife, Julia Schnell.

3. German Wallace College, now Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, Ohio, which Ulrich attended in 1874–1875, awarded him the honorary degrees of Master of Arts (1886) and Doctor of Science (1892).

4. Henry Alleyne Nicholson’s work in the previous decade had shown the need for continuing investigations of bryozoans by this method, one that disclosed the usefulness of internal structures in recognizing widespread external homeomorphy.

5. Schuchert later recalled their association in Newport (1881–1888), especially the four years during which he worked as Ulrich’s assistant. See unpublished MS autobiography, ch. 7, p. 30; box XLIII, Charles Schuchert Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Sterling Library, Yale University.

6. Bassler, who prepared the bryozoan section for the 2nd ed. (1913) of the work by Karl A. von Zittel, culminated his systematic work within the Ulrichian framework of ideas in Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, Part G. Bryozoa (Lawrence, Kansas, 1953): its excellent organization and bibliography reflect his abilities as a compiler. In Ulrich and Bassler’s investigations, thin sections were studied primarily with the 10-power hand lens. Their contemporaries, Edgar Roscoe Cumings and Jesse James Galloway at the University of Indiana, made initial microscopic studies of bryozoan modes of growth and functional morphology, techniques now being applied to investigations of systematics and phylogeny for the revision volume of the Treatise.

7. The only major unpublished work from this period is the joint geologic mapping and stratigraphic study with Nevin Melancthon Fenneman in 1904–1914 of the Cincinnati East 15-minute quadrangle. The map and accompanying MS formerly in the survey’s Washington open files is no longer extant. The Department of Geology of the University of Cincinnati presently holds a photostatic copy. Ulrich’s adamant positioning of the Richmondian stage as basal Silurian disagreed with the usage of the Geological Names Committee of the U.S. Geological Survey, and most contemporary usage, which held it to be uppermost Ordovician. See William Henry Shideler, “The Ordovician-Silurian Boundary,” in Ohio journal of Science, 16 no.8 (1916), 329–335.

8. A comparison and critique of Ulrichian and Grabauan stratigraphic methods an philosophies is Carl Owen Dunbar and John Rodgers, Principles of Stratigraphy (New York, 1957), 136. 284–288.

9. Charles Schuchert, “Ozarkian and Canadian Brachiopods.” in American Journal of Science, 237 , no. 2 (1939), 135–138.


I. Original Works. A large collection of papers, field notebooks, locality registers, monthly reports, a partly published MS, and memorabilia is in the Paleontology and Stratigraphy Branch, U.S. Geological Survey, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.

A second unpublished MS is held by the Denver Library of the survey, which also preserves the 1912–1917 correspondence between Ulrich and George Willis Stose. Folder 8, Geological Division General File (Chief Geologist), 1901–1916, Records Group 57 (Records of the Geological Survey) of the National Archives, Washington, D.C., contains field correspondence sent by Ulrich during 1902–1915. Letters sent in 1888–1893 by Josua Lindahl, then Illinois state geologist, to Ulrich are on microfilm in the Augustana College Library, Rock Island, Illinois. The department of geology, University of lowa, lowa City, holds copies of 1934 correspondence between Ulrich and A. C. Trowbridge.

Ulrich’s 141 published titles are listed in the several bibliographies of North American geology, Bulletin of the United States Geological Survey, nos. 745 (1923), 1031–1033; 823 (1931), 624–625; 937 (1944), 961–963; and 1049 (1957), 927.

Among his paleontological writings are “American Paleozoic Bryozoa,” in Journal of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, 5 (1882), 121–175, 232–257; 6 (1883), 82–92, 148–168, 245–279; and 7 (1884), 24–51; “American Paleozoic Sponges,” in Illinois Geological Survey, 8 , pt. 2, Palaeontology (1890), 209–241, 243–251, 253–282 (the last section with Oliver Everett); “Paleozoic Bryozoa,” idid., 283–688, pls. XXIX–LXXVIII; “New and Little Known American Paleozioc Ostracoda,” in Journal of the Cincinnati Society of Natural History, 13 (1890–1891), 104–137, 173–211, pls. 7–18; “On Lower Silurian Bryozoa of Minnesota,” in Geological and Natural History Survey of Minnesota, Final Report, 3 Paleontology, pt. 1 (1895), 96–332, pls. 1–28 [folio]; “New Lower Silurian Lamellibranchiata of Minnesota,” ibid., pt. 2 (1897), 475–628. pls. XXXV-XLII; “The Lower Silurian Ostracoda of Minnesota,” ibid., 692–693, pls, XLIII-XLVI; “The Lower Silurian Gastropoda of Minnesota,” ibid., 813–1081, pls. LXI-LXXXII, with Wilbur H. Scofield; “A Revision of the Paleozoic Bryozoa,” pt. 1, “On Genera and Species of Ctenostoma,” in Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 45 no. 1452 (1904), 256–294, pls. LXV-LXVIII, pt. 2, “On Genera and Species of Trepostoma,” ibid., 47 , no. 1470 (1904), 15–55, pls. VI-XIV, with Raymond Smith Bassler; “Paleozoic Ostracoda; Their Morphology, Classification, and Occurrence,” in Maryland Geological Survey, Silurian (Baltimore, 1923), 271–391, pls. XXXVI-LXV, with Bassler; “A Classification of the Toothlike Fossils Condonts, With Descriptions of American Devonian and Mississippian Species,” in Proceedings of the United States National Museum, 68 , no, 2613 (1926), 1–63, pls. 1–11, with Bassler; “The Cambrian of the Upper Mississippi Valley,” pt. 1, “Trilobita; Dikelocephalineae and Oseolinae,” in Bulletin of the Public Museum, 12 no. 1 (1930), 1–122, pls. 1–23; pt. 2, “Trilobita; Saukiinae,” ibid., 12 no. 2 (1933), 123–306, pls. 24–45, with Charles Elmer Resser; “Cambrian Bivalved Crustacea of the Order Conchostraca,” in Proceedings of the United States National Museum, 78 no 2847 (1931), 1–130, pls. 1–10, with Bassler; “Ozarkian and Canadian Brachiopoda,” in Special Papers of the Geological Society of America, no. 13 (1938), viii, 1–323, pls, 1–58, with Gustav Arthur Cooper; “Ozarkian and Canadian Cephalopods,” pt. 1, “Nautilicones,” ibid., no. 37 (1942), x, 1–157, pls. 1–57, with August Frederick Foerste, William Madison Furnish, and Arthur K. Miller; pt. 2, “Brevicones,” ibid., no. 49 (1943), x, 1–240, pls. 1–70, with Foerste and Miller; pt. 3, “Longicones and Summary,” ibid. , no. 58 (1944), x, 1–226, pls. 1–68, with Foerste, Miller, and Athel Glyde Unklesbay.

Ulrich’s stratigraphic publications include “The Lower Silurian Deposits of the Upper Mississippi Province: a Correlation of the Strata With Those in the Cincinnati, Tennessee, New York, and Canadian Provinces, and the Stratigraphic and Geographic Distribution of the Fossils,” in Geological and Natural History Survey of Minnesota, Final Report, 3 , Paleontology, pt. 2 (1897), IXXXiii-cxxviii [folio], with Newton Horace Winchell; “Paleozoic Seas and Barriers in Eastern North America,” in Bulletin of the New York State Museum, no. 52, Paleontology no. 6 (1902), 633–663, with C. Schuchert’ “Columbia Folio, Tennessee,” in U.S. Geological Survey, Geological Atlas, fol. no. 95(1903), 1–6,8 pls. with Charles Willard Hayes; “The Lead, Zinc, and Fluorspar Deposits of Western Kentucky, Part I, Geology and General Relations,” in Professional papers. U.S. Geological Survey, no. 36 (1905), 15–105, pls, I-VII; “Revision of the Paleozoic Systems,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 22 (1911), 281–680, pls. 25–29, “Index...;” ibid., 24 (1913), 625–668; “The Chattanoogan Series, With Special Reference to the Ohio Shale Problem,” in American Journal of Science, 4th ser., 34 , no. 200 (1912). 157–183; “The Ordovician-Silurian Boundary,” in Congrès Gèologique International Compte-Rendu de la XIIIe Session, Canada, 1913 (Ottawa, 1914), 593–669; “Correlation by Displacements of the Strand-line and the Function and Proper Use of Fossils in Correlation.” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 27 (1916), 451–490; “Major Causes of Land and Sea Oscillations,” in Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, 10 , no. 3 (1920), 57–78, reprinted in Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report for 1920 (1922), 321–337; “Some New Facts Bearing on Correlations of Chester Formations,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 33 (1922), 805–852; “American Silurian Formations,” in Maryland Geological Survey, Silurian (Baltimore, 1923), 233–270, with Bassler; “Notes on New Names in Table of Formations and on Physical Evidence of Breaks Between Paleozoic Systems in Wisconsin,” in Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of sciences, Arts and Letters, 21 (1924), 71–107; “Relative Values of Criteria Used in Drawing the Ordovician-Silurian Boundary,” in Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 37 (1926), 279–348; “Ordovician Trilobites of the Family Telephidae and Concerned Stratigraphic Correlations,” in Proceedings of the United States National Museum, 76 , no, 2818 (1930), 1–101, pls. 1–8.

II. Secondary Literature. On Ulrich and his work, see R. S. Bassler, “Edward Oscar Ulrich (1857-1944),” in Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 28 , no. 5 (1944), 687––689; and “Memorial to Edward Oscar Ulrich,” in Proceedings Geological Society of America (1945), 331–351, pl. 23; G. Arthur Cooper, “Edward Oscar Ulrich,” in Dictionary of American Biography, supp. 3. pp. 782–783; Percy Edward Raymond, “Edward Oscar Ulrich,” in Science, 99 , no. 2570 (1944), 256; Rudolf Ruedemann, “Biographical Memoir of Edward Oscar Ulrich, 1857–1944,” in Biographical Memoirs, National Academy of Sciences, 24 no. 7 (1947), 259–280, with portrait; and The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, XXXIII (1947),63–64.

Clifford M. Nelson

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