Frank Wigglesworth Clarke

Frank Wigglesworth Clarke

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Frank Wigglesworth Clarke (Mar. 19, 1847 – May 23, 1931) of Boston, Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

, and Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 was an American scientist and chemist. Sometimes known as the "Father of Geochemistry," Clarke is credited with determining the composition of the Earth's crust
Crust (geology)
In geology, the crust is the outermost solid shell of a rocky planet or natural satellite, which is chemically distinct from the underlying mantle...

. He was a founder of The American Chemical Society and served as its President, 1901.


Professor Clarke was the first theorist to advance a hypothesis regarding the evolution of elements. This concept emerged early in his intellectual career. His “Evolution and the Spectroscope” (1873) appear in Popular Science Monthly. It noted a parallel evolution of minerals, accompanying that of plant life.
He was known for pushing mineral analysis beyond analytical results. He sought compilations of the associations, alterations, and syntheses of each mineral sample. His study Constants of Nature (Smithsonian Institution 1876) was one of the first collections of both physical and chemical constants. The USGS’s Atomic Weights series became standard references for the chemistry and geochemistry professions and academic fields. Clarke was also an academic collaborator. His Data on Geochemistry became a means of collecting peer professional efforts for common use across five successive editions.
Beginning with his Constitution of silicates (1895), Professor Clarke advanced a methodology of geochemical analysis which described a mineral’s composition through fact coordination. Priority was placed on contextualizing the research by describing constitution, structure and relationship with other minerals. The mineral sample’s natural history was the end goal, a means of articulating the mineral’s alteration products and pseudomorphs as a record of chemical change. To this record Clarke added the artificial history record available in the laboratory. The natural and artificial histories, combined, created what Clarke called the “constitution of a mineral.” The constitution of a mineral was best summarized by, in the words of Clarke, “a good formula” which “ . . . indicates the convergence of knowledge; if it fulfills that purpose it is useful, even though it may be supplanted at some later day by an expression of still greater generality.”
Clarke authored one of the first governmental reports on the teaching of science in the United States. The report was sponsored by the US Commissioner of Education in 1878 and titled: "Report on the teaching of chemistry and physics in the United States". It was printed by the Government Printing Office in Washington, DC. Clarke's stated purpose in writing the report was to "state the facts, and secondly, to point out defects and remedies--to show on the one hand what is, and on the other what ought to be" (p. 377) relative to the teaching of chemistry and physics in the United States. The report was exhaustive, spanning secondary institutions, normal schools, and more than 350 colleges and universities.
In 1908 the first edition of Clarke's work, The Data of Geochemistry
The field of geochemistry involves study of the chemical composition of the Earth and other planets, chemical processes and reactions that govern the composition of rocks, water, and soils, and the cycles of matter and energy that transport the Earth's chemical components in time and space, and...

(Survey Bulletin no. 330), was published while he was the Chief Chemist at the U.S. Geological Survey. Clarke's fifth edition of this bulletin was released in 1924; the year he retired. Professor Clarke was also an early pioneer (1891) of work efficiency studies, using the theory of probability and least squares as the basis for work review.

Early Life & Education

Professor Clarke’s parents, Samuel and Abby (Fisher) Clarke, were residents of Boston, Massachusetts. Samuel Clarke was a hardware merchant and dealer in iron-working machinery. Abby Clarke died when Frank Clarke was an infant of ten days. Among Clarke’s New England ties were a grandfather serving as a Unitarian minister at Princeton, New Jersey and Uxbridge, Massachusetts; another serving as a colonel under General George Washington in the Continental Army, and a third who wrote Day of Doom, am 18th century Puritan poem.
Frank Clarke was raised by his Unitarian grandfather at Uxbridge until 1851. His father then remarried, and the new family constituted itself at Woburn, Massachusetts until 1858. The Clarkes lived at Worcester, Massachusetts from 1859–1866, when they returned to Boston. After Frank left for collegiate studies, Samuel Clarke moved to Watertown where he resided until his death in 1907.
Professor Clarke’s primary education occurred in Woburn and Uxbridge, Massachusetts; his secondary schooling was gained at a boarding school in Stoughton and several schools in Boston. He attended Boston Latin School
Boston Latin School
The Boston Latin School is a public exam school founded on April 23, 1635, in Boston, Massachusetts. It is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States....

 and the English High School before matriculating to Harvard College’s Lawrence Scientific School in March 1865. His Harvard mentor was Wolcott Gibbs
Wolcott Gibbs
Wolcott Gibbs was an American editor, humorist, theatre critic, playwright and author of short stories, who worked for The New Yorker magazine from 1927 until his death. He is best remembered for his 1936 parody of Time magazine, which skewered the magazine's inverted narrative structure...

. Clarke took his bachelors of science from Harvard in 1867 and took a position as a chemistry lecturer, Boston Dental College. He then served as a Chemistry instructor under hydrocarbon scientist and fellow Lawrence School graduate, Professor James Mason Crafts at the young Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

. Often stereotyped as a “chemist,” the record shows Professor Clarke to also have been an geologist. His short sojourn in Ithaca, New York
Ithaca, New York
The city of Ithaca, is a city in upstate New York and the county seat of Tompkins County, as well as the largest community in the Ithaca-Tompkins County metropolitan area...

 prompted extensive surveys of local geologic forms, resumed when he taught at the University of Cincinnati
University of Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati is a comprehensive public research university in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a part of the University System of Ohio....

. Clarke returned to Boston after the AY 1868-1869, and resumed lectures at the Boston Dental College and pursued literary and journalistic endeavors, including reporting for the Boston Advertiser, through 1873.

Public Service

Clarke retired from the public service on January 1, 1925, having served as the Chief Chemist of the U.S. Geological Survey since 1883. Part of his Survey work included analysis of the Yellowstone geysers and their water. He also supported American contributions to many exhibitions, most notably the 1900 Paris Exposition. At the centennial of John Dalton
John Dalton
John Dalton FRS was an English chemist, meteorologist and physicist. He is best known for his pioneering work in the development of modern atomic theory, and his research into colour blindness .-Early life:John Dalton was born into a Quaker family at Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, Cumberland,...

’s atomic theory held at Manchester, England in 1903, Clarke delivered the Wilde Lecture. Returning to England in 1909, he presented before The Chemical Society on the subject of his mentor, Wolcott Gibbs
Oliver Wolcott Gibbs
For the writer, see Wolcott Gibbs.Oliver Wolcott Gibbs was an American chemist. He is known for performing the first electrogravimetric analyses, namely the reductions of copper and nickel ions to their respective metals.- Biography:Oliver Wolcott Gibbs was born in New York City in 1822 to...

. His forty-two year career included parallel service with the United States National Museum as ‘honorary curator’ of minerals. The Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

’s extensive mineral collection “are due in large measure to his active interest and his painstaking efforts both in the collection and exhibition of specimens.”
From 1892 to 1902, Clarke was the lone member of the American Chemical Society
American Chemical Society
The American Chemical Society is a scientific society based in the United States that supports scientific inquiry in the field of chemistry. Founded in 1876 at New York University, the ACS currently has more than 161,000 members at all degree-levels and in all fields of chemistry, chemical...

’s Committee on Atomic Weights. In 1902, the need for commonality between active American and German scientific committees prompted the formation of the International Committee on Atomic Weights
Atomic weight
Atomic weight is a dimensionless physical quantity, the ratio of the average mass of atoms of an element to 1/12 of the mass of an atom of carbon-12...

, with Frank Clarke as its chairman. As chairman, Clarke guided the international committee in successive revisions of the Periodic Table of Elements which continued until interrupted by the First World War in 1918.

Academic career

Prior to entering the federal service, Professor Clarke taught chemistry and geochemistry at Howard University (1873–1874) and the University of Cincinnati (1874–1883). In 1874, Frank W. Clarke became spouse to Mary P. Olmstead of Cambridge, Massachusetts. While at Cincinnati, he made extensive forays into Appalachia to study its geology and form. Clarkes’ first academic work was entitled On a new process in mineral analysis (March 1868). It was published at age 20 and during the year he went on to serve as an instructor in Chemistry at the new Cornell University. Even after he left academia, his bookish qualities were well known. He would time his Cosmos Club library visits to coincide with the librarians’ opening of the periodical mail and was keen on being the first to know, rather than the one to receive, the news.

Personality, including humor.

Professor Clarke was not a hearty laugher. He was known to “ripple” quietly at exceptional displays of wit or humor. Clarke’s humorous use of language was compared to Lewis Caroll and the talent was renowned at Washington D.C.’s Cosmos Club
Cosmos Club
The Cosmos Club is a private social club in Washington, D.C., founded by John Wesley Powell in 1878. In addition to Powell, original members included Clarence Edward Dutton, Henry Smith Pritchett, William Harkness, and John Shaw Billings. Among its stated goals is "The advancement of its members in...

. Somewhat of a gossip, he specialized in knowing not only what people were currently doing, but also what their forebears had done. Professor Clarke was known for a sharp wit, sometimes employing deadpan. While attending a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner, Clarke noticed the host struggling with that metric of American male performance, the carving of the turkey. Clarke “suggested that it might profit the carver to visit the National Museum, for a certain door therein bears on it the sign ‘Division of Birds’.”
A colleague recalled his dining habits at Washington D.C.’s Cosmos Club, “[s]hould you join him at lunch and when the waiter has served the butter this man has said, ‘Take it away, please,’ and of the potatoes, ‘Take that away also,’ and should he be eating of sweet potato and some one has remarked to him, ‘Why I thought you did not like potatoes,’ he replies, ‘This is not potato, it is convolvulus
Convolvulus is a genus of about 200 species of flowering plants in the bindweed family Convolvulaceae, with a cosmopolitan distribution. Common names include bindweed and morning glory, both names shared with other closely related genera....

 . . .”
Anger was not a Clarke character trait. Toward the end of his life, Professor Clarke was described as “about five feet five inches in height, one hundred and ten pounds in weight, with pale blue eyes, little hair and most of that under his ears, chewing his finger nails and apparently absorbed in thought, though really most alert.” His voice delivered in “. . . a low tone with a well-modulated and quite agreeable voice, using very well-chosen language, talking good sense, but with a mild undertone of gaiety, and you find him bright and entertaining and then you find him clever . . . .” In his communications, Professor Clarke exhibited restraint in speaking either negatively or positively of others. His praise he reserved for the individual’s absence and many were advanced in his profession by Clarke’s recommendation out of the earshot of the candidate.

Awards and honors

  • Chevalier, Legion of Honor;
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences;
  • The Wilde Medal, Council of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society;
  • The F.W. Clarke Award
    F.W. Clarke Medal
    The F.W. Clarke Medal is an annual award presented by the Geochemical Society to an early-career scientist for a single outstanding contribution to geochemistry or cosmochemistry, published either as a single paper or a series of papers on a single topic. The award is named after Frank Wigglesworth...

    of the Geochemical Society is named after him;
  • The mineral Clarkeite
    Clarkeite is a uranium oxide mineral of composition 223 or O·0-1H2O.The color of samples varies from dark brown to reddish orange. Clarkeite forms by oxidation and replacement of uraninite late during pegmatite crystallization...

     was named after him;
  • In1903, the only American (and Unitarian) ever invited to deliver a Memorial Address before The Chemical Society.



  • ”The Obituary of an Undertaker,” Life Magazine;
  • ”The Mormon Widow’s Lament, The Galaxy;
  • ”American colleges versus American science,” 9 Pop. Sci. Monthly 467 (Aug. 1876);
  • ”The higher education,” 7 Pop. Sci. Monthly 402 (Aug. 1875);
  • “How to Play Solitaire, Riverside Magazine (Feb. 1870);
  • Views around Ithaca, New York; Being a description of the waterfalls and ravines of this remarkable locality (1869).


The American Association for the Advancement of Science (Section Q); American Chemical Society; Young Men’s Christian Union; The Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C.; the Phi Kappa Psi
Phi Kappa Psi
Phi Kappa Psi is an American collegiate social fraternity founded at Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania on February 19, 1852. There are over a hundred chapters and colonies at accredited four year colleges and universities throughout the United States. More than 112,000 men have been...

 Fraternity at Cornell and the Irving Literary Society
The Irving Literary Society (Cornell University)
Cornell literary societies were a group of 19th century student organizations at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, formed for the purpose of promoting language skills and oratory. The U.S...


External links

  • Frank Wigglesworth Clarke Papers, 1873–1921, Smithsonian Institution Archives