Walter Herman Bucher (1888–1965)

Walter Hermann Bucher was born in Akron, Ohio, on March 12, 1888, of Swiss-German parents. He was brought up in Germany, however, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg in 1911, concentrating on paleontology and geology. Bucher returned to the United States in 1911, and attended the University of Cincinnati, where he became a lecturer, assistant professor (1915), associate professor (1920), professor (1924), and research professor and chairman of the geology department. In 1940, Bucher became professor of geology at Columbia University with a specialty in structural geology.

His publications fall into two quite different categories. From 1911 through 1919, he focused on paleontology, including the origin and significance of stromatolettia, ripple marks, and oolites.

Between 1920 and 1965, his interests were structural geology, cryptovolcanic structure, and the major deformation of the Earth’s crust. Bucher was the first in the United States to call attention to, and map systematically, the nearly circular, complex structures known as cryptovolcanic structures. Rather than depending solely on geologic maps made by others, he had a penchant for seeing geologic features in the field. He explained cryptovolcanic structure as the result of gas explosions caused by intense heat rising from cupolas of igneous magma, which never rose all the way to the Earth’s surface. In later years, many of these structures were interpreted as the results of meteor impacts, but Bucher cautioned against assuming that all such features are of meteoritic origin. In 1933, Bucher published The Deformation of the Earth’s Crust, which he brought up to date in a 1938 address before the Geological Society of America. It was considered a valuable contribution to the knowledge of major tectonics of the Earth. His later papers dealt with paleontology, sedimentary structures, and geomorphology.

Besides being a productive research scientist, Bucher was a teacher of rare ability. He was enthusiastic, with a warm and colorful personality. After his retirement from Columbia University in 1956, Bucher became a part-time consultant to Humble Oil at their laboratory in Houston.

Bucher was elected president of the Ohio Academy of Sciences in 1935. He was chairman of the Division of Geology and Geography of the National Research Council from 1940 to 1943. The New York Academy of Sciences elected him president in 1946. He was president of the American Geophysical Union from 1950 to 1953.

Among his honors were the William Bowie Medal of the American Geophysical Union, which he received in 1955; the Leopold von Busch Medal of the Deutsche Geologische Gesellschaft, awarded in 1955; and the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America, awarded in 1960. He died February 17, 1965, in Houston, Texas.

—Roy E. Goodman

Library of the American Philosophical Society

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania