Professor Edward S.C. Smith
I've decided to start a series of blog entries on some of the fascinating and often amazing people whom I know have been an important influence in my life. I've already done an entry on Clarence Johnson, who just by accident happened to deliver mail to my home, but was certainly instrumental in fostering my love of science. I've also written about Mildred Guernsey, who taught me 8th grade algebra. Today I'd like to give credit to Professor Edward Staples Cousens Smith, who was another important influence.
I grew up in the shadow of Union College, a small Liberal Arts and Engineering college in Schenectady, New York. Union was founded in 1795. It has a gorgeous campus, full of ivy-covered traditionally styled buildings. I spent much of my youth exploring every corner of that campus.
One day I happened upon the mineralogical museum that was a part of the department of Geology. This department was housed in a modest two-story Georgian building and much of the first floor was taken up by the museum. In one corner was a small, curtained-off area of flourescent rocks and minerals. A switch permitted the visitor to change from darkness to white light to ultra-violet light. One could see the rocks under normal light and then be exposed to the brilliant colors that were exhibited under "black" light.
All the samples were labeled -- Hyalite from Mexico and North Carolina, Brucite from Texas and New Jersey, Calcite from Montana and California. Exotic names for the rocks and, to an 8 or 9-year old boy, the names of exotic places. I can't tell you how many dozen times I went to that magic darkened place to see the rocks that glowed. I took my friends as well. We'd ride our bikes and prop them against the building as we went in to be amazed by the phenomenon of flourescence.
As I paid one of my frequent visits to the museum, probably around 1948, a distinguished-looking gentleman suddenly appeared and asked me if I knew why those rocks did what they did. That was the beginning of a long friendship with Professor Edward S.C. Smith, the Chairman of the Department of Geology. As I learned much later, there was a long period during which Professor Smith was the only member of the Department of Geology.
He was a natural teacher. He would pose a question like the one about flourescence. I, of course, would respond that I had no idea why the rocks glowed. We'd proceed to his office where he would erase whatever was on his chalk board. He would then teach me the principles of science in terms and drawings that a young boy could understand. It was all about learning and understanding science.
A few months after we met, I ran across plans for a crystal radio set. I needed a crystal of galena, a lead sulfide that forms cubic crystals and becomes the signal detector in a crystal set. I remembered that I had seen galena in the geology museum. Off I went on my bike to see if I could get a piece of galena from Professor Smith. He made sure that it wouldn't be that easy.
He asked me if I understood what goes on in a crystal detector and why galena worked as part of the detector (The other part was called the "cat's whisker" and is a thin wire that makes contact with the crystal.). We proceeded to the office and the blackboard.
After he had taught me how these natural diodes work, he gave me an assignment that I still remember, some sixty years later! He took a cigar box off a shelf and proceeded to fill it with small rock and mineral samples - the galena I had asked for, but also Calchopyrite, Zinc Sulfide, Zincite from the New Jersey Zinc Company mines, Sphalerite, Willemite (a zinc silicate as I recall), and others. Then he said, "Bobby, some of these will work in a crystal set and some won't. Some will only work if you use another one of these as the cat's whisker. I want you to go home and try all the possible combinations and report back to me what you find out." He was teaching me the scientific method!
Professor Smith took me on field trips with the college classes and let me sit in on his classes. I think he was truly disappointed that I didn't go to Union College as a geology major.
I spent a lot of time with Prof Smith and his wife Frances. He had a lovely collection of music boxes and we both enjoyed the intricacies of these vintage devices. He was, in fact, a close friend of Elizabeth Bornand, a world-renowned expert on vintage music boxes. He often went to her store in Pelham, New York, to have his music boxes worked on. He also knew of my interest in antique cars and spoke of someday owning a Metz roadster like the one his father had owned.
After Professor Smith retired, his wife took a job in the library at Penn State and we gradually lost touch. He died in 1971, having left a wonderful legacy. I owe much of my love for science to this man.
I found the following article on the Internet which I believe is from an encyclopedia of Union College:
"Smith, Edward Staples Cousens (Aug. 23, 1894-Nov. 11,1971).
Professor of Geology, 1922-60.
Born in Biddeford, Maine, the only child of James G. Cousens Smith, a merchant—later mayor and state legislator—and Eva Lorena Staples Smith, E.S.C. Smith attended Bowdoin College as a chemistry major (BS, 1918). Too small for the army, he devoted a year to First World War work with Dupont, then entered MIT for graduate study. After one semester he switched to Harvard, where he studied geology, earning an AM in 1920. Despite additional graduate study during two years as a teaching assistant at Radcliffe College, Smith never obtained a PhD.
He came to Union as an instructor in geology and chemistry, and on James Stoller's retirement in 1925 rose to assistant professor and chair of the Geology Department. This represented a re-establishment of Union's geology program. The previous attempt by Charles Prosser (1894-99) had faded away after Prosser's departure, and although Stoller had maintained courses in geology and had made important contributions to the study of New York State geology, his advanced training was in biology. Smith was a geologist both by inclination and education, and he set about creating a comprehensive program in the science.
Certainly the best-known geologist in Union's recent history, he was mentor to a long string of geology students, a remarkable number of whom went on to eminence in the field. Smith was geology at the College for over thirty years, from his ascension in 1925 to the addition of a second regular faculty member in 1957. From 1931 until the onset of the Second World War, the only period in which Union offered a master's degree in the field, Smith was able to teach a sound curriculum in geology, often with the help of a young instructor who was also a master's degree candidate.
Although diminutive in stature (five-foot four, 135 lbs., in 1935), Smith was a presence on campus, and the subject of numerous anecdotes repeated by former students and colleagues. While many of these touch on a certain imperiousness, they also reflect the students' affection for him, which was no doubt a response to his concern and fondness for them. He was nicknamed "Alphabet Smith"—because he often used three initials— and "Snuffy" (after Snuffy Smith, a short-statured comic strip character of the time), but to many people he was simply "Prof," without any surname.
While not extensive, Smith's professional publications touched upon some very significant areas of geology, especially the geology of his home state of Maine. A special interest in the state's highest mountain led him to compile, with Myron Avery, An Annotated Bibliography of Katahdin, (1922; rev. ed., 1936). He was the first to prove the presence of Cambrian age rocks in Maine.
One of Smith's most interesting contributions was in the field of mineral fluorescence. With his student William Parsons '36, he did experimental work on fluorescence spectra of minerals, a phenomenon familiar to many who have seen "black lights" produce striking colors on specimens in the darkened chamber of a mineralogical museum. Smith's collection of fluorescent specimens is still a fascinating part of the mineral collection at Union.
Although he was above all a dedicated teacher, Smith did not confine his teaching to the campus; he was strongly concerned with educating the general public about geology. Responsible for one of the earliest television series devoted to the subject, he also spoke over WGY in a series of radio lectures for the General Electric Science Forum. He contributed a section on "Natural Radioactivity" to Applied atomic power (1946); one of the earliest books on nuclear energy, it proved not only a useful technical compilation, but an enlightening work for the general public.
His concern for conservation and the environment preceded by many years the fashion which became general a decade or so after his retirement. Smith's role in geology was recognized by many colleagues. He was a close associate of New York State Geologist Christie A. Hartnagel '98 and the noted paleontologist and stratigrapher, Rudolf Ruedemann. With Smith's help, Ruedemann studied important Cambrian sections in Maine, and he named a fossil, Oldhamia Smithi, in Smith's honor.
A fellow of the Geological Society of America and the Mineralogical Society, Smith helped organize the New York State Geological Association and served as its president in 1930.
He played the piano, collected music boxes, and in 1946 set up an "enjoyment course" in symphonic music, playing phonograph records in Old Chapel. His other hobbies also had consequences for the College: he organized a Philatelic Club in 1927, and his interest in photography led him not only to make still and motion pictures for class use, but also to shoot in 1935/36 Union's first promotional film, "George goes to Union." A long-time bachelor, Smith served as a proctor in Old Gym and South College, then as head proctor, residing in North College, until his 1946 marriage to Frances Shaver, head cataloguer in the College library. From 1951 until 1960, the couple occupied the College house at 856 Nott St.
When Smith retired in 1960 he was honored by his former students, who established the Edward S. C. Smith Geology Prize for a geology major who shows high professional potential. Although the College no longer offered a geology major at the time of Smith's death in 1971, the later renewal of the department and of the prize has somehow brought him to life again, as a presence among those dedicated to geology at Union.
-George H. Shaw"
Addendum dated 23 March 2017:
Today, I ran across a memorial for Prof Smith that was published by the Geological Society of America. It's too beautiful to not be included in my tribute to a treasured mentor. With all due credit to the author,
Memorial to Edward S. C. Smith 1894-1971
PHILIP C. HEWITT Department of Earth Sciences, State University of New York, Brockport, New York 14420
Professor Edward Staples Cousens Smith, chairman of the geology department of Union College in Schenectady, New York, until his retirement in 1960, died in Gainesville, Florida, on November 11, 1971. His wife Frances survived him by almost three years. Mrs. Smith passed away on October 12, 1974.
Known as the ‘‘Prof" by his students and many of his colleagues, Smith epitomized everything of value as a scientist, a geologist, and a teacher. With his ready wit, immense knowledge, and crackling “down Maine” accent, he developed a small but excellent program in geology and taught many fine and highly loyal students. He imparted something of his own enjoyment in field and research work to them, showing his real affection for the young men and his eagerness to teach them.
Born in Biddeford, Maine, on August 23, 1894, Prof. Smith studied chemistry at Bowdoin College, from which he was graduated in 1918. At that time Bowdoin had no geology department but his interest in mineralogy had been whetted by his love of the outdoors and nursed by his instructors in chemistry. His graduate study was taken at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, and it was from Harvard that he received his M.A. degree in 1920. From 1921 to 1923 he was an instructor at Radcliffe College; then he went to Union College to spend the next thirty-seven years, the remainder of his career as a teacher.
In 1925 Prof. Smith became chairman of the geology department at Union and began to develop a strong major. His primary interests were in mineralogy, geomorphology, and the history of geology. However, he taught courses in many areas and had breadth in geology generally as well as depth in his own particular specialties. He established an excellent library for the use of his students, which included virtually all American and many foreign journals. In addition, many rare and highly valued acquisitions are in the Union College Library, thanks to his efforts. This includes a fine copy of the original William Smith Map in remarkable condition.
In addition to the excellent library, Prof. Smith nurtured and developed excellent collections of minerals which established Union College as a repository for many fine and rare mineral specimens. Few small colleges can approach Union in the excellence of such collections, which includes the Wheatley and Pfordte Collections as well as his own fluorescent minerals collection, a subject in which he had great interest even during his later years. It was in the area of mineral fluorescence that he did much research even after his active teaching duties were completed.
Prof. Smith was a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and of the Mineralogical Society and a member of numerous other profesional organizations. He was very active in the Society of the Sigma Xi. In addition, Smith was an early organizer, supporter, and president of the New York State Geological Association.
His professional interests were notable; yet he did not ignore the necessity for bringing geology to a popular level. Frequently, he spoke for groups other than professionals and helped to develop an appreciation of geology in those whose interests in the Earth were not professional. As an example, Smith developed one of the earliest television courses in geology—a series of programs, which were well received and which helped to provide for the public a real insight into the field. He also delivered a series of radio talks for the General Electric Science Forum over WGY in Schenectady.
He was an early and tireless worker in the field of conservation and was involved in environmental concerns well before it became fashionable. The need to preserve and protect our natural and nonrenewable resources was a major interest. He spoke before many groups and wrote for many publications on the subject.
Prof. Smith was so obviously a “down Mainer” that it is no surprise to note that much of his research was based upon field work done in his native state. His contributions in that area included study of the Cambrian of northern Maine, various aspects of Mount Katahdin, an area along the Kennebec River, igneous exposures of Mount Kineo and vicinity, and Rangeley conglomerate as well as a number of others.
He did not ignore New York State, for he published a number of scientific articles on the geology of that area also. His breadth of professional interest is demonstrated by the variability of sub ject matter. Smith wrote on such varied subjects as polycrase in New York, tillite in Maine, and rock creep on Mount Katahdin. Along with William H. Parsons, he wrote an article on mineral fluorescence.
Prof. Smith published in a number of journals, including the American Journal of Science, American Mineralogist, Geological Society of America Bulletin, Geographical Review, Bulletin of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and others. In Reynolds’ Excursions in Science (1939), he wrote an article on meteorites. Applied Atomic Power, a book by Smith and others, was published by Prentice-Hall in 1946. One of the earliest compilations of the subject matter designed for the new “atomic age,” this was a useful reference work for the student and the general public as well.
Smith wrote an excellent manuscript for a book on the history of geology that he never published. Originally written for a course he offered in this subject, the manuscript covered that period from the early Greek philosophers to the vigorous American geologists. Although he was asked many times to publish this work, he never did. It is regrettable that it never reached the geologic public, for Smith stood in a special place in time and space. He followed the group of New York geologists who had developed the basis for our own stratigraphy, yet he was, in his early and middle years, a contemporary of those who worked for them. Thus, he straddled two eras—theirs and ours—and it was through him that much of the early flavor of American geology was passed on. Students who heard his lectures on this subject were imbued with a love for and knowledge of the past and a healthy respect for the prowess of our geologist ancestors.
Prof Smith was a friend of those whose names appear in many areas of the science of geology. He helped Rudolf Ruedemann in Maine and Ruedemann named Oldhamia smithi for him. He helped Chris Hartnagel in New York, and it was Hartnagel who provided the wonderful stories and anecdotes about James Hall and others (which thrilled Profs students and colleagues). His research qualified him as a fine scientist. His love of the outdoors qualified him as a special person—a geological scientist.
Yet it was his love of people that is most important. Prof. Smith was a warm, wonderful man with a huge talent for teaching. A listing of his students would be a long one with many distinguished names appearing on it. He was able to bring life to his subject and to develop in his students a love and understanding of the study of the Earth. His influence on future professionals was immense. His influence on the layman toward an appreciation of the Earth was equally great.
On his retirement, his students established the E.S.C. Smith Prize, an endowed fund to provide an award for promising geology majors at Union College. It was established with the warm affection of his friends, students, and colleagues. At no time did they forget him nor did he forget them. His newsletters kept them in touch with him, even after his retirement.
I know that one of Prof. Smith’s most difficult tasks was to write a memorial to Chris Hartnagel, his very close friend. Chris had taught him much. Now I realize this same difficulty in writing about the “Prof.” Partly it was difficult because he was my friend who taught me so much. He taught me to teach and made things possible for me. But it was difficult mostly because it is an ending, a last word—a word of love, but a last word nonetheless.
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF E.S.C. SMITH
1923 The Rangeley conglomerate: Am. Jour. Sci., v. 5, p. 147-154.
1924 Rock creep on Mt. Ktaadn, Maine: Geog. Rev., v. 14, no. 3, p. 388-393. ------- (and Avery, Myron H.) A bibliography for Mt. Ktaadn revised: Appalachia, 12 p.
1925 (and Perkins, E. H.) A geological section from the Kennebec River to Penobscot Bay: Am. Jour. Sci., v. 9, p. 204-228.
1926 Larrabee and “the backwoods expedition”: Appalachia, 7 p. ------- The Ripogenus gorge: The Northern, v. 6, no. 3, p. 3-4.
1928 A possible tillite from northern Maine: Am. Jour. Sci., v. 15, p. 61-65. ------- The Cambrian in northern Maine: Am. Jour. Sci., v. 15, p. 484-486.
1933 An occurrence of garnet in rhyolite: Am. Jour. Sci., v. 25, p. 225-228.
1938 (and Parsons, William H.) Studies in mineral fluorescence: Am. Mineralogist, v. 23, no. 8, p. 513-521.
1946 (and others) Applied atomic power: New York, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 227 p.
1947 (and Kruesi, Oscar) Polycrase in New York State: Am. Mineralogist, v. 32, p. 585-587.
1964 Memorial to Chris Andrew Hartnagel [1874-1962]: Geol. Soc. America Bull., v. 75, P1-P6.