Winchell, Alexander Newton

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(b. Minneapolis, Minnesota. 2 March 1874; d. New Haven. Connecticut, 7 June 1958)

mineralogy, petrology, education.

Winchell was the youngest son of Newton Horace and Charlotte Sophia Imus Winchell. He received the B.S. degree in 1896 and the M.S. in 1897 from the University of Minnesota, where his mineralogical studies were directed by Charles P. Berkey. Following a year as instructor in physics at Central High School, Minneapolis, he married and went to the University of Paris to pursue advanced studies in mineralogy and petrology under Alfred Lacroix. Winchell received the D.Sc. from the University of Paris in 1900 and then took a post at the Montana School of Mines. In 1907 he moved to the University of Wisconsin, becoming full professor in 1908, and remained there until his retirement in 1944. In 1934 he was given a semester’s leave of absence to study X-ray methods under Linus Pauling at the California Institute of Technology and under W. H. Taylor and W. L. Bragg at the University of Manchester. His promotion to chairman of the department of geology at the University of Wisconsin also was effective in 1934.

Winchell was associated with the U.S. Geological Survey from 1901 to 1910. After moving to Connecticut in 1948, he was made an honorary fellow in geology at Yale University. He served as visiting professor of mineralogy at the University of Virginia (1948–1949) and at Columbia University (1949–1950), and was resident mineral consultant at the Stamford laboratory of the American Cyanamid Company for three years. His remaining years were devoted to reviewing geological literature and revising his books.

Winchell’s major contribution to geology is his well-known, and still widely used. three-volume Elements of Optical Mineralogy. The first volume was an outgrowth of a book that his father and himself published in 1909. That book was the first presentation in English of the principles and methods of optical mineralogy, and its expanded revision quickly became a major textbook. Four additional revised editions followed. The second volume dealt with the description of minerals and underwent three revisions, the last in collaboration with his youngest son, Horace. The third volume, on determinative tables, was revised once. These volumes contain the compilation and correlation of vast amounts of data relating the optical and physical properties of crystals to their composition. Three-fourths of the approximately 120 diagrams in the book giving graphical representation of these relations were developed by Winchell. He made significant contributions to the understanding of such major mineral groups as the feldspars, pyroxenes, melilites, amphiboles, micas, chlorites, zeolites, and scapolites. He also compiled a text on the optical properties of synthetic minerals and one on organic crystals, as well as an elementary text-book on mineralogy. These books made the methods of mineralogy available to chemists, ceramists, and other research scientists.

Winchell’s second major contribution to geology was in the field of petrology. He studied Keweenawan igneous rocks, the relationship of igneous rocks to the occurrence of ores, and limestone alteration, and devised a graphical classification of rocks. Petrological field observations from Montana, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah are recorded.

Winchell devoted forty-four years to the teaching of mineralogy. He was an inspiring teacher with boundless patience, always ready and available to answer students’ questions. He was friend and counselor to students, earnest in discussion and a source of support.

Winchell served as president of the Mineralogical Society of America in 1932 and as vice-president of the Geological Society of America in the same year. The former society awarded him its highest award, the Roebling Medal, in 1955.

Serious games were Winchell’s principal hobbies: chess, bridge, Russian bank, anagrams, and crossword puzzles. He pursued his early university interest in history and was an active member of a poetry club. After retirement he enjoyed traveling in North America.

He married Clare Edith Christello of Minneapolis on 29 May 1898. They had five children, most of whom carried on the family tradition in geology directly or indirectly, through marriage to geologists. Two years after the death of his wife in 1932, he married Florence Mabel Sylvester, granddaughter of Alexander Winchell.


Winchell’s textbooks are Elements of Optical Mineralogy, 3 vols,:I, Principles and Methods (5th ed., New York, 1937), II, Descriptions of Minerals (4th ed., New York, 1951), written with H. Winchell; III, Determinative Tables (2nd ed., New York, 1939): Microscopic Characters of Artificial Inorganic Solid Substances or Artificial Minerals (New York, 1931); Optical Properties of Organic Compounds, 2nd ed. (New York, 1954); and Elements of Mineralogy (New York, 1942).

On the optical properties of major mineral groups, see “Studies in the Pyroxene Group,” in American Journal of Science, 5th ser., 6 (1923), 504–520; “The Composition of Melilite,” ibid.,8 (1924), 375–384; “Studies in the Amphibole Group,” ibid.,7 (1924), 287–310; “Studies in the Mica Group,” ibid.,9 (1925), 309–327, 415–430; “Studies in the Feldspar Group,” in Journal of Geology,34 (1925), 714–727; and “Chlorite as a Polycomponent System,” in American Journal of Science, 5th ser., 11 (1926), 282–300.

Petrological studies are “Mineralogical and Petrographic Study of the Gabbroid Rocks of Minnesota,” in American Geologist,19 (1900), 336–339; “Review of Nomenclature of Keweenawan Igneous Rocks,” in Journal of Geology,16 (1908), 765–774; “Discussion of Igneous Rocks as Related to Occurrence of Ores,” in American Institute of Mining Engineers, Ore-Deposits (New York, 1913), 303–304; “Rock Classification on Three Co–ordinates,” in Journal of Geology, 21 (1913), 208–223; Petrology and Mineral Resources of Jackson and Josephine Counties, Oregon (Salem, 1914); and “Petrographic Studies of Limestone Alteration at Bingham,” in Transactions of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers,70 (1924), 884–903.

Historical studies are “Minnesota’s Northern Boundary,” in Minnesota Historical Society Collections, 8,pt. 2 (1896), 184–212; and “Minnesota’s Eastern, Southern, and Western Boundaries,” ibid.,10 (1905), 1–11.