Charles Doolittle Walcott, during his career as Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (1894-1907) was interested in broad problems of the earth. Within a few days of meeting Andrew Carnegie in December 1901, he had laid plans for a geophysical laboratory, relying on the advice of G. F. Becker. Walcott became Secretary of the new Carnegie Institution of Washington (CIW) and Secretary of the Executive Committee and began to plan for a major research campus in Washington, advising Carnegie and others of his activities. A joint advisory committee met in July 1902 and unanimously supported a laboratory as out-lined earlier; however, the concept of a research campus, and particularly a laboratory for earth sciences investigations, was rejected by the Trustees in the fall of 1902.

Nevertheless, Walcott continued to put considerable effort into operations of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, made all the more difficult by the reluctance of the President, D. C. Gilman, to take action.Walcott's view of major centralized facilities was counter to that of John Shaw Billings, who became Chairman of the Board in 1903. Although Walcott continued to garner outside support for a laboratory and repeatedly wrote Carnegie on the subject, he was unable to move the project forward. In the fall of 1904, Robert S. Woodward became the second President of CIW, and the Executive Committee was also reorganized. By December 1905, the laboratory was approved, and even though Carnegie was against any major building projects, Walcott was able to satisfy him as to the merits of this laboratory. Throughout the years of campaigning for the facility, Becker supported a broad view of geophysics, but when the Geophysical Laboratory was finally established under Arthur L. Day, it had a more restrictive program oriented toward the study of the physical chemistry of igneous rocks.

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