February 18, 2011

George Nelson Coffey

George was a son of Elijah L. & Mary Ann Nelson Coffey.  Click on this blogs title to read an earlier post.

George Nelson Coffey

"George N. Coffey received his PhD degree from George Washington, Washington, C.C., and worked as a geologist, doing a soil survey for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture over a great portion of the United States, one of the first of its kind.  This first career ended as a research scientist at the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station at Wooster, Ohio.  His father-in-law, William Francis Kean, an attorney and judge in Wooster, persuaded George to establish a land title business in Wooster, The Wayne County Abstract and Title Company.  He went to Law school and obtained the right to practice law, recommended for conducting a title business.  He continued in this second career until his retirement.

"George Nelson Coffey, Ph. D., University of Illinois, Urbana, IL was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"George Nelson Coffey joined the Bureau of Soils in 1900, the second year of its existence, and worked in the program for about 11 years. During those years he worked on soil surveys in many parts of the United States. Those surveys exposed him to a wide variety of soils. Because of his experience and knowledge, he was chosen to supervise soil classification and correlation after five years with the Bureau. During the time that he was in charge of soil classification and correlation, Coffey became acquainted with earlier soil studies, such as those of E.W. Hilgard in Mississippi, T.C. Chamberlain in Wisconsin, and the Dokuchaiev school in Russia. From those sources and his own field experience, Coffey developed and promoted his ideas of soil genesis and classification. Coffey's ideas were in marked contrast to the prevailing idea in this country that soils were simply a function of the underlying rocks. Coffey presented his ideas in journal articles for several years, culminating with the publication of USDA Bureau of Soils Bulletin No. 85 in 1912. Bulletin 85 is now recognized as a classic, but like Coffey's journal articles, it fell on deaf ears in 1912. Coffey left the soil survey program before Bulletin 85 was published and worked at the Ohio Agricultural Station, where he worked on soil mapping, an erosion study, and fertilizer trials. Later, Coffey moved on to the University of Illinois. In 1922 Coffey left soil science as a career but retained his interest in soils and geology. After he left the soil survey program Coffey's publications on soil genesis and classification were largely forgotten. About a decade later a profound change in the concept of soil and in the understanding of soil genesis began in the United States. Championed by Curtis F. Marbut, the change occurred gradually in the 1920s, 1930s, and beyond. A new group of American pedologists emerged who had learned of and from the Dokuchaiev school and had the benefit of the profound changes that had occurred in the United States. Those pedologists rediscovered Bureau of Soils Bulletin No. 85 and earlier publications by Coffey and recognized the advanced nature of Coffey's ideas of soil genesis and classification. Those ideas mark Coffey as one of the first, if not the very first, of the American pedologists."

Source:  Soil Science Society of America [no longer on-line].

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