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Longwell, Chester R. (Chester Ray), 1887-1975


Geologist Chester Ray Longwell was born on a farm in Ralls County, Missouri in 1887. He began his education in a one-room schoolhouse and later attended high school in Quincy, Illinois, where he graduated with honors in 1904. He attended the University of Missouri from 1912 to 1916, beginning his study of geology in his junior year. Graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1915, Longwell completed his Master's degree the following year before heading to Yale University to study structural geology. His doctoral education was interrupted by America's entry into World War One in 1917. During the war, Longwell served in the army as an artillery officer and saw combat in France.

After the war Longwell returned to Yale, where the subject of his doctoral dissertation was the geology of the Muddy Mountains of southern Nevada; this foray into southern Nevada would become much of his life's work. Awarded a Ph.D. in geology in 1920, Longwell was appointed to the faculty at Yale the same year; he also held an appointment as associate geologist for the United States Geological Survey.

From 1921 to 1928, Longwell did fieldwork throughout Clark County, Nevada, a challenging physical environment with few inhabitants. While in the field, he recorded the geology and data on vegetation and weather in field notes, drawings, and photographs. When not studying he wrote short stories set in the area.

Longwell enjoyed a long and distinguished career at Yale; among many other offices and honors, he served as president of the Geological Society of America from 1949 to 1950. After an early first marriage ended in divorce in 1931, Longwell married Irene Moffat in 1936; the couple had two daughters and a son. In 1956, Longwell retired from Yale and the couple moved to Palo Alto, California. Stanford welcomed him to its Earth Sciences faculty where he continued his geology research. Over his career Longwell wrote more than one hundred articles and books on geology, including the undergraduate text Physical Geography, co-authored with Richard Flint, which was the standard textbook used in introductory geology classes at colleges and universities for more than a decade. Longwell pursued his research well into retirement, delivering a lecture just before his sudden death on December 15, 1975 at the age of 88.


"Chester R. Longwell: In Memorium," Biographical Memoirs, Volume 53 National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, National Academy Press, Washington DC, 1982, pp. 248-263. Accessed September 20, 2019,