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Geophysics Comes of Age—The Roaring Twenties and the Depressing Thirties

January 01, 2001


Most stories about the early days of petroleum geophysics start with the formation of the Geological Engineering Company.2 We mentioned in the prior chapter that four talented men—W. P. Haseman, J. C. Karcher, E.A. Eckhardt, and Burton McCollum—worked together at the U.S. Bureau of Standards in 1917 to develop improved detectors of blast waves generated by enemy artillery. While working there, Haseman discussed with Karcher his belief that reflected sound waves could detect potential petroleum-bearing structures. After resuming teaching at the University of Oklahoma, Haseman wrote Karcher, then finishing his Ph.D. degree in physics at the University of Pennsylvania, to ask whether he would like to form a seismic exploration firm upon graduation. Karcher was enthusiastic and immediately began working on a patent application for the concept. They also invited Eckhardt and McCollum to join them. Because McCollum already had eleven patents, in January 1919 he and Karcher jointly filed a patent application for “determining the contour of subsurface strata….” Actually, they prepared four separate applications, two on reflection methods and two on refraction methods. To stay solvent, Dr. Eckhardt and the new Dr. Karcher continued working at the Bureau of Standards and, during off-hours, built a three-trace recorder from an oscillograph and converted some radiotelephone receivers into electrodynamic geophones. With this crude gear, the world’s first seismic reflections were intentionally obtained on 12 April 1919 within a Maryland rock quarry.3 The Geological Engineering Company, the first seismic contracting organization was then incorporated in Oklahoma in April 1920. By early

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Figures & Tables


Society of Exploration Geophysicists Geophysical References Series

Geophysics in the Affairs of Mankind: A Personalized History of Exploration Geophysics

L. C. (Lee) Lawyer
L. C. (Lee) Lawyer
Past President of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists
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Charles C. Bates
Charles C. Bates
Honorary Member, Society of Exploration Geophysicists
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Robert B. Rice
Robert B. Rice
Past President and Honorary Member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists
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Society of Exploration Geophysicists
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January 01, 2001




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