Walter Curran Mendenhall

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Walter Curran Mendenhall
Walter Curran Mendenhall 05.jpg
Walter Curran Mendenhall, the fifth director of USGS for 14 years, 1930 - 1943
5th Director of the United States Geological Survey
In office
1930 (1930) – 1943 (1943)
Preceded byGeorge Otis Smith
Succeeded byWilliam Embry Wrather
Personal details
Born(1871-02-20)February 20, 1871
Marlboro, Ohio, U.S.
DiedJune 2, 1957(1957-06-02) (aged 86)
Chevy Chase, Maryland, U.S.
NationalityUnited States
Alma materOhio Normal University
AwardsPenrose Gold Medal, 1944
Scientific career
FieldsGeology, Hydrology
InstitutionsUS Geological Survey

Walter Curran Mendenhall (February 20, 1871 – June 2, 1957), was the fifth director of the US Geological Survey.


Mendenhall was born in Marlboro, Ohio to William King Mendenhall and Emma P. Garrigues. He graduated from Ohio Normal University. He married Alice May Boutelle (born 1876); the couple had two daughters, Margaret Boutelle Mendenhall (born 1916) and Alice Curran Mendenhall (born 1918).

USGS career[edit]

In December 1930, Hoover appointed George Otis Smith to the newly reorganized Federal Power Commission and then appointed Walter C. Mendenhall to succeed Smith as Director of the US Geological Survey, honoring not only a commitment to appoint the heads of scientific agencies from within the civil service but also a commitment to support basic research. Mendenhall and Smith were both 59 years old. Mendenhall had joined the Survey in 1894, fresh from Ohio Normal University, and had mapped in the Appalachian coal fields. In 1898, he had been one of the pioneer geologists in Alaska, and in 1903 he had become one of the first ground-water specialists in the Water Resources Branch.[citation needed]

An early member of the Land Classification Board, he became its chairman in 1911 and in 1912 the first Chief of the Land Classification Branch. For eight years before becoming Director, Mendenhall had been the Chief Geologist. Although more than half his surveying career had been in administrative work, he had made notable contributions to the geology of Alaska, and his study of the principles in ground-water hydrology had helped to establish it as a field of scientific endeavor. King, Powell, Walcott and Mendenhall all were members of the National Academy of Sciences.[1]

Mendenhall's directorate was pivotal in the history of the Geological Survey. In spite of the difficult times, the depression years, and the beginning of World War II, he encouraged the Survey, as he had the Geologic Branch, to emphasize the necessity of basic research and created an environment in which, in the words of the Engineering and Mining Journal, "scientific research, technical integrity, and practical skill could flourish."[citation needed]

A year after Mendenhall became Director, the Federal budget was sharply cut as the effects of the depression began to be felt. The appropriations were not restored to earlier levels until the late 1930s, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, but the Survey subsisted, even grew, on funds transferred from agencies formed to combat the depression by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. The Tennessee Valley Authority, established in May 1933, turned to the Survey to meet its need for maps of the entire valley and for a much expanded program of stream gaging throughout the basin.[citation needed]

In 1943, as the Federal Government began planning for the postwar era, Director Mendenhall, who had served 2 years beyond then mandatory retirement age by Presidential exemption, was succeeded by William Embry Wrather.[2][3] Mendenhall died in Chevy Chase, Maryland, 1957.



  1. ^ National Academy of Sciences website/profile
  2. ^ USGS History
  3. ^ Walter Curran Mendenhall biography. U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior

External links[edit]

Preceded by
George Otis Smith
Director of the United States Geological Survey
Succeeded by
William Embry Wrather