Washington, Henry Stephens

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(b Newark, New Jersey, 15 January 1867; d Washington. D.C., 7 January 1934), geology.

A distinguished and colorful geologist during the early decades of the twentieth century. Washington pioneered in chemical studies of igneous rocks. He demanded high standards of accuracy in his own analyses and as a result produced the text-book Manual of Chemistry Analysis of Rocks (1904; 4th ed., 1930), which remained standard for his generation.

A descendant of George Washington, he received the A.B. in 1886, with special honors in natural sciences, and the A.M. in 1888 from Yale College. For the next six years he was involved with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, participating in archaeological excavations in Attica, Plataea, Argos, and Phillius. This work was influenced by his knowledge of geology in, for example, his determination of the sources of marbles used in Greek sculpture.

In 1891-1892 and 1892-1893 Washington spent the winter semesters at the University of Leipzig, where he received the Ph.D. in 1893 after studying under Zirkel and K. H. Credner. His dissertation was on the volcanoes of the Kula basin in Lydia.

He returned briefly to Yale in 1895 as an instructor in mineralogy. Financially independent, Washington established a private laboratory at Locust, New Jersey, where he initiated the extensive chemical and mineralogical investigations of igneous rocks that he was to pursue for the rest of his life. Economic reverses forced him to undertake consulting work as a mining geologist from 1906 to 1912. In 1912 he became associated with the geophysical laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where he remained, except for 1918-1919, when he was the scientific attaché to the American embassy in Rome.

Washington’s chemical analyses of igneous rocks transformed into mineral compositions led to the first serious attempt to classify such substances in collaborative efforts with Whitman Cross, J. P. Iddings, and L. V. Pirsson (the CIPW classification). Although their scheme, published as Professional Papers. United States Geological Survey, 14, 28, and 99, achieved neither widespread nor lasting acceptance, it did stimulate an interest among earth scientists in the chemical and mineral compositions of rocks and attempts to produce alternative methods of classification.

In 1917 Washington published an enlarged edition of Chemical Analyses of Igneous Rocks (the first edition had appeared in 1903), a monumental assemblage of rock assays drawn from the world literature. He sorted them into superior and inferior classes and pointed out the inadequacies of the latter group. The work was of fundamental importance in establishing standards of analysis and became known throughout the world. Washington’s other research spanned a wide spectrum of interests in geology, encompassing volcanism, petrography, isostasy, and geochemistry. He was a member of the committee on nomenclature of the Mineralogical Society of America. His linguistic abilities were used to establish the correct etymologies and pronunciations of mineral names.


A bibliography of Washington’s works is in Zeitschrift für Vulkanologie, 16 (1935), 3–6.

Obituaries include C. N. Fenner, in Science, 79 (1934), 47–48; and J. Volney Lewis, in American Mineralogist, 20 (1935), 179–184.

Edward D. Goldberg

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