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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 56/March 1900/Sketch of Edward Orton

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 56‎ | March 1900

PSM V56 D0528 Edward Orton.png



ALL persons interested in American science were surprised and shocked at learning of the death, from heart trouble, on October 16, 1899, of Prof. Edward Orton, of the Ohio State University. The event occurred only little less than two months after Professor Orton had presided, with a simplicity of manner that did not hide but rather heightened the traits of vigor in his character, over the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at his home in Columbus, Ohio. The services he rendered to geology, his long and honorable career as an educator, and his continual and consistent insistence upon the faithful use of the scientific method well entitle him to be remembered as one of the most meritorious of American scientific workers.

Edward Orton was born in Deposit, Delaware County, N. Y., March 9, 1829. He was descended from Thomas Orton, who, born in England in 1613, was one of the fifty-three original settlers and owners of Farmington, Conn., was of the stock from which most of the Ortons in the United States are derived, and represented his town in the General Court in 1784. Another ancestor, a grandson of Thomas Orton, was one of the original purchasers and settlers of Litchfield, Conn., where he owned a square mile of land known as Orton Hill, on the south side of Bantam Lake. Two of the maternal ancestors of the subject of this sketch fought in the colonial wars, and ten Ortons were soldiers in the Revolution.

Young Edward Orton was taught by his father, the Rev. Samuel G. Orton, D. D., and received further training preparatory for college in the academies of Westfield and Fredonia, N. Y. He entered Hamilton College, whence his father had been graduated in 1822, in 1845 as a sophomore, and was graduated in 1848 in a class among the other members of which were the Rev. Dr. Thomas S. Hastings, President of Union Theological Seminary, New York, and the Hon. E. J. Van Alstyne, afterward Mayor of Albany, N. Y., and member of Congress. After his graduation he taught for a number of years in academies at Erie, Pa., Franklin, 'S. Y., and Chester, N. Y., and became, in 1856, Professor of Natural Science in the State Normal School at Albany, N. Y. He pursued postgraduate studies in chemistry, botany, and other subjects at the Lawrence Scientific School, with Professors Horsford, Cooke, and Gray as his teachers, and studied theology for a time under Dr. Lyman Beecher, at Lane, and Dr. Edwards A. Park, at Andover Seminaries. While teaching at Chester, N. Y., he was called to Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he took charge of the preparatory department in 1865; was made Professor of Natural History shortly afterward, and was made president of the college in 1872, but retained the office for only one year, at the end of which he went to occupy a similar position in the State University at Columbus.

When the second Geological Survey of Ohio was undertaken in 1869 under the charge of Prof. J. S. Newberry, Professor Orton was appointed an assistant by Governor Rutherford B. Hayes, and was continued by reappointment by Governor E. E. Noyes. When Professor Newberry withdrew from the survey in 1881, Professor Orton was appointed State Geologist by Governor Charles Poster, and he was afterward reappointed to the position successively by Governors Hoadley, Foraker, Campbell, and Bushnell. He reretained the title of State Geologist till his death, although he had not been engaged in any active public work on the survey for a considerable time.

The Ohio State University having been established on the basis of the grants of land made to the States for colleges under the Morrill Land-Grant Act, Professor Orton was appointed its president and Professor of Geology. He discharged the duties of this office for eight years, or till 1881. But the executive work of the president's office was irksome to him, since it grew constantly heavier as the young college expanded, and therefore left him less and less time for teaching and research in geology. Being in a measure compelled to make a choice between the two fields of activity, he chose the less ambitious position, resigning the presidency, and assuming the position of Professor of Geology, which he retained for the remainder of his life. The geological building of the university is named after him—Orton Hall. Besides his work on the Geological Survey of Ohio and his participation in the composition of its reports. Professor Orton prepared, for the Eighth Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey, a paper on the New Oil and Gas Fields of Ohio and Indiana, and another, only recently published in the Nineteenth Annual Report of the United States Survey, on the Rock Waters of Ohio; a volume for the Geological Survey of Kentucky on the Petroliferous Production of the Western Part of the State, published in 1891; and a report on petroliferous productions which is in process of publication by the Geological Survey of New York.

In the paper on the Oil and Gas Fields of Ohio and Indiana the discovery of the supply of those materials, the great value of which was only realized in 1884 and afterward, is spoken of as being more surprising and anomalous than any similar discovery that had preceded it, and as a development which experts were hardly more prepared for than others. The oil and gas derived from the Trenton limestone in certain parts of these States were found to differ from the oil and gas in the Pennsylvania wells in chemical composition and physical properties, in the horizons from which they were obtained, in the structural features of the rocks associated with their production, and, most of all, in the kind of rock that produced them. "No facts more unexpected have ever been brought to light in connection with the geology of this country than those with which we are now becoming acquainted." Professor Orton's paper, which fills one hundred and eighty of the large pages of the report of the Geological Survey, includes a sketch of the history of the discovery to July, 1887, when it was prepared; a designation of what was known in regard to the geological scale and geological structure of the regions within which the new fields are embraced, and the tracing of the chief factors that influence or control the productiveness of the oil rock, with the description of the special features and boundaries of the several fields and the setting forth of the leading facts and present development of these lately found sources of power. Two principal conditions under which the new oil rock had proved petroliferous on a large scale were found to be porosity, connected with and apparently dependent on the chemical transformation of the upper portion of the limestone, for a number of feet in thickness, into a highly crystalline dolomite; and a relief resulting from slight warping of the strata, whereby the common contents of the porous portions of the Trenton limestone had been differentiated by gravity, the gas and oil seeking the highest levels, and the salt water maintaining a lower but definite elevation in every field. Professor Orton found nothing in the new experience to make it safe to count the Trenton limestone an oil rock or a gas rock in any locality, unless it could be shown to have undergone the dolomitic replacement by which its porosity was assured; and even in case it had suffered this transformation it would not be found a reservoir of gas or oil in an important sense unless some parts of it had acquired the relief essential to the due separation of its liquid and gaseous contents.

The report on the Rock Waters of Ohio concerns, first, those waters, chiefly in the northwestern and western part of the State, that are obtained from a considerable depth as compared with ordinary wells, the knowledge of which was almost wholly derived from wells drilled in the search for oil and gas, and was necessarily fragmentary and incomplete; because water was not included among the objects of search, but was considered a hindrance and obstruction to be got out of the way as well as possible; and, second, flowing wells, including only those having considerable head of pressure and those occurring in considerable areas, all of which belong entirely to the drift. Further, a brief review is given of some facts of unusual interest that were developed in the deep drillings concerning the preglacial drainage system of the part of the State in question. Indications of old river channels, one of which seems to have been extensive, were found at several points. Among the curious results of these studies was the conclusion, "seeming to be already established," "that the Ohio River, as we now know the stream, is of recent origin, and that the main volume of water gathered in it at the present time originally flowed across the State to the northward at least as far as Auglaize and Mercer Counties, where it turned to the westward toward the present lines of Wabash drainage in Indiana." Professor Orton seems to have placed considerable emphasis on the value of a study of the rocky floor of the State, concerning which all we know at present is derived from the revelations of deep drillings at haphazard; and he thought it would be a good work for the State to make use of all accessible data of this kind at once in constructing a model of the rocky floor of the region under review. The care and fidelity with which he studied the underground geology are exemplified in a map attached to the paper on the oil and gas fields, in which the horizons of the Trenton limestone are indicated and approximately bounded as they occur by gradations ranging from fifty to two hundred and fifty feet, from elevations above the ocean level to one thousand and more feet below. Another contribution of Professor Orton's which may appropriately be given special notice is his part of the article on Ohio in the Encyclopædia Britannica, in which a succinct, clear, and comprehensive account of the geology of the whole State is given, with its salient features delineated so sharply that one may almost conceive from it a definite geological picture of the region.

Of all his scientific work, however. Professor Orton regarded the fixing of the order of the coal measures of Ohio as the most important; and he considered the determination of the order of the subcarboniferous strata, and particularly of the Berea Grit, as constituting a large permanent service to the study of the geology of the State.

At the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Professor Orton contributed a special paper on the local geology of Columbus, the place of the meeting, in which he dwelt largely on the origin of the drift that marks the superficial geology of the vicinity.

Of the work he has done for the increase and advancement of knowledge, the extent of a part of which we have only faintly indicated by the mention of a few particular researches. Professor Orton put the highest value on his labors as a teacher, a calling to which he was devoted for more than half a century. He found peculiar pleasure in instructing the children of the old pupils whom he had taught in his younger days. He was actively concerned in the promotion and extension of sanitary science, his addresses in that field having been one of the factors that led to the establishment of the Ohio State Board of Health. He was also greatly interested in the advancement of agriculture.

A theme on which Professor Orton was fond of dwelling in his public addresses was the amount and value of what has been accomplished within a comparatively short time in the world's history by the use of the methods of science. In an address delivered before the alumni of Hamilton College in 1888 he maintained that we were living in a revolutionary period, which is marked by a great advance in knowledge and a vastly larger control of the forces of Nature; by a large increase in freedom of thought and action; by a sudden and remarkable addition to the mobility of man, accompanied by an unexampled growth of great cities; and by an incalculable addition to the wealth of the world. Accompanying these great changes in the material and intellectual world were certain moral transformations appearing to grow out of them. All these advances were ascribed to a movement—a new method of investigating Nature—that began, so far as its particular and continuous development is concerned, about three hundred years ago, but to which no date or founder's name could be attached. This new philosophy thoroughly respected Nature, was humble, patient in the accumulation of facts and the trial of its theories, comprehensive, progressive, and hopeful. It has given us the marvelous increase of knowledge which especially marks the nineteenth century; it has impressed its influence upon all branches of study, and has wrought great improvements in methods and results; and has rendered an immense and inestimable service to Christian theology, and done much to broaden and rationalize it and thus to perpetuate and strengthen its hold on the world. Finally, the method of science was pronounced "the best gift that God has given to the mind of man." A similar train of thought as to the material aspects is apparent, though in a somewhat different form, in an address on The Stored (or Fossil) Power of the World, delivered in 1894.

A considerable part of Professor Orton's presidential address at the last meeting of the American Association was devoted to a summary of the conclusions derived from Alfred Russell Wallace's book, The Wonderful Century, that the progress accomplished in the present century far outweighs the entire progress of the human race from the beginning up to 1800. In this address, also, the author felicitously spoke of the scope of the American Association as possibly including the whole continent, and its object as the advancement of science, the discovery of new truth. "It is possible that we could make ourselves more interesting to the general public if we occasionally forswore our loyalty to our name and spent a portion of our time in restating established truths." But the discoveries recorded, though often fragmentary and devoid of special interest to the outside world, all had a place in the great temple of knowledge; and the speaker hoped that although no great discoveries should be reported this time, the meeting might still be a memorable one through the inspiration it would give to the multitude of workers in the several fields of science.

Professor Orton was a member of several learned societies; was President of the Sanitary Association of Ohio in 1884 and 1885; received the degree of Ph. D. from Hamilton College in 1876, and that of LL. D. from the Ohio State University in 1881; was elected President of the Geological Society of America in 1896; and was designated at the Boston meeting of the American Association, 1898, as president for the Columbus meeting, 1899.

In addition to his interests in science and theology, Professor Orton was keenly alive to everything that bore on the history of man on this planet. He was long a member of the Ohio State Archæological and Historical Society, and had recently been made a member of its board of trustees. He was a prominent member of the Old Northwest Genealogical Society, and was the author of a volume, published in 1896, on the Genealogy of the Orton Family in America. The absolute freedom of his character from any desire for display or self-aggrandizement is well shown by the fact that in this volume, compiled, with enormous labor, in the spare minutes of a busy life, he cuts himself off with one paragraph of a hundred words, while devoting pages to contemporaneous members of the family of whom the world has never elsewhere heard.

He was stricken with hemiplegia in December, 1891, but was able to do a considerable amount of work in his profession afterward. A few days before his death he said, in a note, that he felt that he had lived out his allotted time, and that his work was done. He never met his classes again, though he continued able to be up and about his home till the hour of his death. He seemed to feel that the solemn event was drawing close, during the last two days of his life, and his mind was always busy with the great question, "If a man die, shall he live again?" He had formed an affirmative answer apparently, as he read Browning's Prospice repeatedly in his last hours, and seemed to find in it the greatest pleasure and solace. His death was a quiet and painless one—a fitting end to a beautiful life.


Statistics of cremation, presented by M. Bourneville at the recent annual meeting of the society in Paris, show that the number of incinerations at the Père Lachaise crematory has almost steadily increased since 1889, and that the whole number last year was 4,513, making 37,068 from the beginning. A fair proportion of the number were women. There are now in Europe and America seventy crematories, twenty-seven of which are in Italy and twenty in the United States. Cremation is making good progress in England, where four crematories are reported from, and two are in course of erection. Germany has six, where 423 incinerations took place in 1898; Switzerland and Sweden have two each, Denmark one, and one has been authorized in Norway.