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Israel Charles White

Memoir Of Israel C. White
By Herman L. Fairchild
Fredrick H. Armstrong Collection


Many geologists win scientific recognition. Rarely one acquires wealth. Through native ability, good training, and noble character, Doctor White achieved both fame and fortune in eminent degree, and his highest honor was in the admiration and affection of the people of his home city and State of West Virginia.

The Geological Society will hold in grateful remembrance his long fellowship and services. He was one of the intrepid band that launched the Geological Society of America caravel on uncharted seas. For fifteen of the earliest years of the Society he collected and wisely conserved its funds as Treasurer. In 1920 he was its President, and he continued an active participant in the meetings of subsequent years.

The writer's acquaintance with Doctor White began at the initial meeting of the Society, in December, 1888. He became Treasurer at the close of the annual meeting of 1891, and during the subsequent fifteen years our intimate association in the immediate direction of the affairs of the Society produced appreciation of his fine qualities of mind and character and a lasting friendship. His passing leaves the writer as the only surviving member of the original group of thirteen.

As a result of the economical conduct of the Society's affairs. Doctor White was able, with judicious investment, to build up a permanent ("Publication") fund of over ten thousand dollars. The chief expense of administration was the publication of the handsome Bulletin, then, as now, so admirably edited by Joseph Stanley-Brown. The direct income was only the dues from the small membership, which had reached only 245 in 1907, and the moderate return from the sale of the Bulletin. A fact not generally known should now be told. Doctor White made a gift to the Society not only of the services of his office, but also of all the expenses of the treasurership, in clerical work, stationery, and postage, during his incumbency. Requests for his expense accounts were always ignored. He had pleasure in service, and the Geological Society was his special pride and interest.

Israel C. White was a native of old Virginia, of English descent. His first American ancestor, Stephen White, arrived in Baltimore County, Maryland, in 1639. His father, Michael White, was one of a pioneer family of eleven children. His mother, Mary Ann Russell, was of Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania German stock. His forbears were with Washington at Brandywine and Valley Forge, and he was enrolled in the Sons of the American Revolution.

Doctor White was born November 1, 1848, being the youngest of three boys, and with two sisters. The old home, built in primeval forest, was in the Battelle District of Monongalia County. His father was a farmer and one of the commissioners who, after the formation of the State of West Virginia, divided the county and named the district.

His boyhood was spent on the farm, and his early education was in tile subscription schools which preceded the public school system. Some incidents of his boyhood have been kindly furnished by the surviving eldest brother, ex-Senator H. S. White, with the West Virginia State Highway Commission. He writes:

"Israel was a reserved and studious boy and efficient in all of his work. From the age of eight or nine years he was a persistent collector of fossils. In 1861 he went to school to me, three miles away, over one mountain and up another, or sometimes a little longer route down one creek and up another: but Israel was always behind, hunting specimens along the streams.

"In the university he demurred to the requirement to learn farming, claiming that he was already a. graduate farmer, having begun farm work by planting corn, with a red string on his right big toe, when he was eight years old, and finishing with sowing of wheat, by hand broadcasting, when so young that he carried in his sowing bag only a peck of the grain."

The fuller record of his early life probably would be only "the short and simple annals" of a normal youth in an American agricultural community.

When the West Virginia University was opened, at Morgantown in 1867, young White was one of the entering class. In 1878 he received the A. B. degree and A. M. in 1875. At the time of his death he was the oldest living alumnus of his alma mater.

White's early interest in geology became his life work through association with John J. Stevenson, the professor of geology at the university. He began his field-work in geology during the summer of 1875 as aid to Stevenson, who was Assistant Geologist on the Second Geological Survey of Pennsylvania (Lesley Survey). During the winter of 1875- 1876 he did postgraduate work in Columbia University with Prof. J. S. Newberry.

The first summer's work of the young geologist was so efficient that for the next season he was promoted to rank of full Assistant on the Pennsylvania Survey. Stevenson had pride in claiming, and justly, that he had discovered and inspired White and had initiated him in stratigraphic geology. The two ever remained very close friends. White's memoir of Stevenson covers pages 100-115 in volume 36 of this Bulletin. During the eight years of work on the Pennsylvania Survey White prepared eight volumes descriptive of the northern and central parts of the State.

"While these reports were of a pioneer nature, in which he covered large territory in a limited time, their subject-matter was so carefully and painstakingly secured, and the data so well analyzed and prepared, that they have become classic in the geologic literature of Pennsylvania" (David B. Reger)

In 1877 White succeeded Stevenson as professor of geology in West Virginia University, and held the chair to 1898, when his professional and business interests required his whole attention.

When the Pennsylvania Survey ended, in 1883, White became Assistant Geologist on the United States Geological Survey, during the years 1884-1888. In this period he made a general survey of the coal fields of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, and his results were published as Bulletin 65 of the United States Geological Survey, entitled "Stratigraphy of the Appalachian coal fields." This publication dealt especially with the bituminous areas of Pennsylvania and West Virginia and formed the basis for all subsequent and detailed work in those States.

During the early eighties Doctor White became actively engaged in the geology of petroleum and was the first to make practical use of the anticlinal theory of gas and oil accumulation.

"Guided by this principle, the writer pointed out and located all the great oil pools of West Virginia for a Pittsburgh syndicate in 1884-1885, long before the drill finally demonstrated the correctness of his conclusions."

White's discovery and development of the Mannington oil field was a great financial as well as scientific success, which laid the foundation of his large fortune. The history of the anticlinal theory and of the Mannington development was published by him in Science, June 26, 1885; in extenso in the Bulletin of this Society, volume 3, pages 187-216, and in volume 1A of the West Virginia Geological Survey, 1904, pages 53-54.

During the years from 1882 to 1921 the expert services of Doctor White were in great demand and he was employed, with large compensation, by the great petroleum and gas companies to examine and report on properties in Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and elsewhere. Some of the most productive oil wells of Mexico were located by him, including Cerro Azul number 4, which flowed 300,000 barrels daily and was the largest ever drilled in the world. He was also employed to represent the oil interests in matters before the departments of the United States Government and the State courts.

The regard in which Doctor White was held by the petroleum and mining interests and their confidence in his knowledge and probity is shown in the following incident. The Kay County Natural Gas Company and the Marland Refining Company had planned for consolidation but could not agree on their respective valuations. In this impasse they asked Doctor White to serve as sole arbitrator. He employed clerks to obtain impartial data and (in 1930) made a decision which was instantly and gladly accepted. His fee was in tens of thousands of dollars.

During the years 1904-1906 he made a survey for the Government of Brazil of its coal and oil resources. His report was published in 1908 as a quarto volume in both English and Portuguese.

In 1908 he was selected for an address on "The waste of our fuel resources" at the first conference of State governors, called by President Roosevelt.

"In 1897 he advocated and secured the establishment of the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, becoming State Geologist the same year, and so continuing for thirty years, until his death. During the first two years he was paid a small stipend, but for the remaining twenty-eight years he did his work as a gratuitous contribution to his native State, on the ground that he himself needed no salary, and that by its rejection he could employ a larger staff and accomplish an earlier study of the State's resources. During his career as State Geologist he supervised the preparation of a complete set of topographic maps, covering the entire State, and also a set of thirty-four geologic reports, of which he himself was the author of five, two of these being on oil and gas and three on coal" (David B. Reger, in The Black Diamond).

In Doctor White's case the seer was greatly honored in his own country. The esteem in which he was held found frequent expression in later years in references to him as the "grand old man of Morgantown" and the "grand old citizen of West Virginia." The term "old" must have been used in endearment, for White was not so in appearance and manner and not in years, as great age is reckoned today.

He was not indifferent to the laudation by his people, but had a normal pleasure in the good opinion of those who had known him and his conduct all his life. The writer occasionally received from him some magazine or newspaper article in his praise, to which he had attached some humorous and yet appreciative comment.

Doctor White's great wealth came wholly through his own efforts and intelligence, scientific knowledge, and wise investments. He very properly charged large fees for expert service, holding his knowledge at high value as against the money of purely commercial interests. He did not belittle geologic service by selling his opinion cheaply.

Perhaps he was acquisitive in business, but certainly he was generous. In domestic, social, and civic relations he used his means lavishly but wisely. One of his first acts after he had made his initial "big strike" by the development of the Mannington oil fields was the purchase of a considerable tract of land adjacent to the campus of the West Virginia University, which the trustees of the university would not buy. On this he built a handsome and spacious residence for his growing family and a substantial office building. From this demesne he gave away and sold some acres, retaining the family home to the present time, although it, with the remaining land, was recently sold to the university for the sum of $185,000.

He was a generous contributor to every good cause; to all the churches, benevolent, and civic organizations. It is thought that his known gifts approach in total one million dollars. The largest single item was the gift by himself and Mrs. White, in 1921, of the coal rights in 1,900 acres of land in Marion County to the city of Morgantown for park and hospital purposes, and to the West Virginia University for the Department of Geology. The present value of the prospective royalties is estimated at $400,000, but if wisely handled it should realize in the future some millions. He also gave to the city a tract of valley land in East Morgantown as part of the Whitemoor Park.

His holdings in Morgantown realty had been very large, and he was a "promoter," in the best meaning of the term, of all that made for the healthy growth and prosperity of the city and the university.

"In civic affairs he served as Vice-President for West Virginia of the International League for Highway Improvements; as President of the West Virginia Board of Trade; as President of the Morgantown Board of Trade; as Treasurer of the West Virginia University Stadium Corporation; and was actively concerned with the Monongalia County Hospital and the Monongalia Tuberculosis Sanitarium. To most of these enterprises he gave not only time, but large donations of money as well" (D. B. Reger, in The Black Diamond of December 10, 1927).

The following quotations from the Morgantown newspapers of November 25 and 26 will show not only Doctor White's civic and business relations, but the high regard of his home folk:

''He was interested in the successful development of gas and oil fields, in coal and other minerals, in banking and manufacturing. His name and capital were associated with scores of Morgantown's best and most substantial enterprises. He was president and director of the Farmers and Merchants' Bank; director of the Bank of Monongahela Valley; president of the Morgantown Brick Company for thirty-seven years, and an active stockholder in many other industries.

"Few communities have been blessed with the long residence of a citizen so public-spirited and so able to carry out his impulses and plans as Doctor White. He never refused an opportunity to engage actively and give generously for any public-welfare movement. His gifts to Morgantown and to the State have been of large proportions, not only in money and properties, but in service. Many of them are unknown, even to his intimates... He had a large part in the development of Morgantown and was a constant and powerful friend of the university.

"He was associated with practically every worth-while movement in his home community, and his name usually spelled success for any undertaking.

Not only was Doctor White's connection and service sought by mining corporations and other large business interests, but he was also consulted on political affairs. He was urged to accept political office, and if he had been. minded to neglect his science and enter public service, possibly he might have had any office in the gift of his State. He had mental poise, excellent judgment, and far vision, with energy and moderate self-assertion, united to high ideals and integrity. His good balance in mentality had enabled him to win dame Fortune to his favor, and would have made him a successful and very useful officer of State and desirable leader of the people; but the devious ways of ordinary politics did not accord with his sincerity and devotion to truth. Not that he loved West Virginia less, but that he loved his scientific work and fellowship more.

Doctor White's personality was not marred by any vices. In habit and living he was a clean example. In physique he was fairly robust, with rotund countenance and fresh, even boyish, complexion. In temperament he was cheerful and often humorous. On occasion, particularly at the annual meetings of the Geological Society and surrounded by his friends, he made them the target for good-natured and painless persiflage.

Modesty and lack of egoism was one of White's admirable qualities. Even with his friends he rarely spoke of his personal affairs. Few of the Fellows of this Society who spent many days with him at the meetings had any conception of his wealth and important connections. Even the writer was not well informed and now finds much of surprise in the facts imperfectly told, and untold, in this appreciation. While he was a man of large property and great influence in the business and civics of his State and in the coal and petroleum industry of America and Mexico, he yet remained the same quiet, affable, and unassuming friend that he had been in the former years, when his treasureship was only sighted in the offing.

Another admirable and lovable quality, and one not too common, was his perfect sincerity and frankness. His conferees and helpers always knew his clear mind and could act with confidence.

The writer is under pleasant obligation for assistance in this biographic sketch to Mr. David B. Reger, who for eighteen years was associated with Doctor White in the work of the State Survey and during the later years has been the chief assistant. The following quotation is from his personal and requested reminiscences:

"In his more general and social relations he was a suave and polished gentleman of simple manner and direct approach, seldom, if ever, resorting to mere authority to accomplish a purpose, and believing that the facts of a situation should eventually control it, provided they became known. In early life necessity compelled him to work both for his living and for recognition in his chosen science. In middle life, after fortune and fame were both secure, he worked because he liked it, and sought increase in his wealth from the natural human desire for possession. Later, in the mellowing years of old age, he took an equally keen delight in the philanthropic disposal of perhaps a third of his entire wealth and In the use of nearly all his time for community enterprises. In some of these affairs he not only gave with great liberality, but also undertook the active campaigns tor additional funds or financing, and there is little doubt that these efforts measurably shortened his life.

"Doctor White had remarkably few weaknesses. His personal habits were temperate and even abstemious. He not only took great care of his own health and that of his immediate family, but also interested himself greatly in the well-being of his staff and his friends...He was somewhat grudging, however, in the recognition of the work of others in projects on which he himself was concerned...These weaknesses, if they may be called such, were looked upon by members of his staff as the foibles of an affectionate and benevolent chief, so completely overbalanced by other extraordinary qualities that they should be passed by with equanimity.

"A summary of his character is not complete without reference to his willingness to do favors for those who asked them. It was his rule that requests or orders for publications and information should be scrupulously answered by the first possible mail, and in order to accomplish this he made literally thousands of trips to the postoffice or to the railroad station... Also, he would search the world over to find positions for deserving young men and women who requested such favors; and when occasional retrenchments became necessary in his staff he made sure that no worthy employee was allowed to go until a new position, equal or better than the last, had been found. An instance of his thoughtfulness in this regard is shown in the making of his will, wherein he definitely named as one of his three administrators, without bond, Mr. J. Lewis Williams, chief clerk of the Geological Survey, and also provided that he be made manager of the estate."

Numerous scientific societies held Doctor White's membership, and, of course, he was drafted into all those devoted to economics and to hydrocarbon exploitation. He was a life-member of the Institute of Mining Engineers, and the American Philosophical Society claimed him as a contributing member. He was an early member of the Washington Cosmos Club. He belonged to the Old Colony Club and the Rocky Mountain Club of New York. From 1920 to the time of his death he was president of the Morgantown Country Club and was active in the Kiwanis, having been one of its international trustees.

Doctor White's life work was the intensive study of the structure and resources of the Appalachian province centering in West Virginia, and the economic geology of the carbon minerals. The extended list of his writings, herewith appended, will show the intensity and completeness of his work. His extensive and important research work for the oil and gas industry could not be published.

Outside his special field of Appalachian stratigraphy and occurrence of the hydrocarbons, he wrote but little. He was caught and held in the maelstrom of a great development in industrial geology. At the beginning of his career he became engrossed in the geologic problems of his environment and very soon was absorbed in technical and exacting studies. Then came insistent demands for his skilled services in examination and report on valuable properties, and no time was left for excursions in other fields of scientific interest, however enticing.

With his mental equipment, as shown in the quality of his writings, if he had been set in other environment and with less exacting employment he might have won recognition in a more philosophic or theoretic branch of science.

His intensive work in one branch of research certainly made for progress in economic geology and added greatly to the advantage of industry. No dilettante ranging over the high plateaus of science, with their glorious perspectives and personal spiritual uplift, could ever accomplish the great work, become the high authority and recognized expert, and the recipient of honors like I. C. White.

The Quebec ice-sheet transgressed the northern part of White's bailiwick, and some of his papers relate to glaciation. An example is his report G7 of the Pennsylvania Survey, 1883, on the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania. He recognized glacial phenomena far south of the arbitrary line of the "terminal moraine," but in deference to the authority of his seniors, and the Survey, he did not venture any correction.

White's memoirs of James Macfarlane, Edward Orton, and John J. Stevenson are his finest nontechnical papers.

In later years the investment of his accumulating funds and supervision of his interests and their wise use in social betterment, along with the civic activities of his home city and his domestic contentment. might have occupied all of his time and thought, but up to the sudden close of his life he was active in scientific work and the State Survey.

An active field geologist is not supposed to have much time for the joys of family life, and especially one who made both South and North America his workshop, but White's great pride and pleasure was in his family. To his grandchildren he was an object of worship.

Soon after leaving college, in 1872, White married Emma McClane Shay, a teacher in Morgantown. For two years they both were teachers. Mrs. White died in 1874, and a daughter by this marriage, Mrs. Emma Fisher, died some years ago.

In 1878 he was married to Mary Moorhead, of Newcastle, Pennsylvania. Of this union four children are living - Mrs. Claude W. Maxwell, of Elkins; Mrs. H. P. Brightwell, of Charleston; Charles Stevenson White, purchasing agent for the New York Central lines, living near New York City; and Mrs. Mary Gertrude Wise, in Morgantown. The death, some years ago, of another daughter, Mrs. K. L. Kithil, was a great sorrow to the father.

The second Mrs. White died in 1984, after which he married Mrs. Julia Posten Wildman, of Morgantown, who survives him.

An older brother of Doctor White is yet living, ex-Senator H. S. White, who is with the West Virginia State Highway Commission.

On November 19, 1927, Doctor White penciled a letter to the writer, in his usual happy style, saying that he was going to Johns Hopkins Hospital for a minor operation for hernia, which he had long postponed. The operation was successful, on November 22, and apparently he was recovering and was in a cheerful mood; but suddenly, soon after midnight of the 25th, he passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage. It was characteristic of him that, in reticence in personal matters and regard for happiness of others, even his family did not know how critical was his condition.

Interesting details and illuminating incidents in the life of Doctor White not here included will be found in other memorial sketches in the scientific journals...


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