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As geologist and director of the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, J. A. Udden gained a reputation as a pioneer geologist from 1911–1932. Less is known about Udden’s tenure at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, from 1888–1911. A study of letters to and from his teacher, students, and sons during this period, in light of some of his key tum-of-the-century publications, shows the influence of Udden’s research at Augustana.

Many of the concepts which brought him recognition later in life were developed under the guidance of his Augustana teacher, Josua Lindahl. As early as 1891, Udden advocated an actualistic approach to geology much like that of Johannes Walther. Udden’s research on wind-blown sediments led to the development of a particle distribution scheme that is used by sedimentologists today—the Udden-Wentworth scale. Working with T. C. Chamberlin, Udden was one of the first geologists to demonstrate that the Pleistocene loess of the Upper Mississsippi Valley was a wind-blown, not water-laid sediment. His interest in wind led to the construction of a working model of a flying machine. He perceived the importance of drill cuttings long before the oil and gas industry realized their value in subsurface geology. An interest in electricity led to Udden’s recommendation of seismic reflection as an exploration tool for oil and gas. Despite a full-time teaching load, Udden published 46 papers during his 23 years at Augustana.

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