Adolf Carl Noé

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Adolf Carl Noé
Born Adolf Carl Noé von Archenegg
(1873-10-28)October 28, 1873
Graz, Austria
Died April 10, 1939(1939-04-10) (aged 65)
Alma mater University of Chicago
Known for Coal ball and paleobotanical studies
Spouse Mary Evelyn Cullatin

Adolf Carl Noé (born Adolf Carl Noé von Archenegg; October 28, 1873 – April 10, 1939) was an Austrian-born paleobotanist. He is credited for identifying the first coal ball in the United States in 1922,[1] which renewed interest in them. He also developed a method of peeling coal balls using nitrocellulose.[2] Many of the paleobotanical materials owned by the University of Chicago's Walker Museum were provided by Noé, where he was also a curator of fossil plants.[3] He was also a research associate at the Field Museum of Natural History, where he assisted with their reconstruction of a Carboniferous forest.[4]


From 1894 to 1897, Noé attended the University of Graz,[5] studying paleobotany under Constantin von Ettingshausen.[6] After Ettinghausen's death, Noé moved to Germany in 1897, having been transferred[7] to the University of Göttingen. He studied there until 1899, when he moved to the United States. During that year, Noé began his work at the University of Chicago.[5] He obtained a B. A. in 1900.[5] In 1901, he moved to California to teach German at Stanford University.[5] Four years later, in 1905, Noé earned a Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Literatures.[8]

Near the end of World War I, Noé removed "von Archenegg" from his name to avoid anti-German sentiment.[4][5] Noé also stopped teaching German classes to research paleobotany, due to overstaffing and the public's disinterest in taking the German courses.[4]

Paleobotanical work[edit]

A coal ball

Noé became a geologist for the Allan and Garcia Coal Commission in the Soviet Union in 1927, ten years after the October Revolution. There, in the Donetz coal basin, Noé did work as a mining geologist.[9] In 1934, Noé became the Field Museum of Natural History's research associate, and assisted in the construction of a Pennsylvanian coal swamp there.[1]

Studies on coal balls[edit]

Coal balls in North America were found in Iowa coal seams since the 1890s,[9] although the connection to European coal balls was not made until Noé (whose coal ball was actually found by Gilbert Cady[1][9][10]) drew the parallel in 1922.[11] There was some disbelief over Noé's discovery.[9] For instance, in 1922, Noé was contacted by David White, who strongly believed that coal balls could not be found in North America.[9] Noé later managed to convince him otherwise by showing him a wheelbarrow full of Illinois coal balls, after which White never spoke to Noé again.[9]


While translating the final chapter of a publication about coal in his office, Noé suffered a paralytic stroke on 11 March 1939.[12] He died on the morning of 10 April, five months before his planned retirement date of October 1939.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Noé married Mary Evelyn Cullatin in 1900. They had two daughters, Mary Helen Noé (who later married Nobel laureate Robert S. Mulliken) and Valerie Noé.[5]