Hess, Harry Hammond, 1906-1969

Alternative names

Hide Profile

Harry Hammond Hess, the son of Julian S. and Elizabeth (Engel) Hess, was born in New York City on 24 May 1906. Hess received a B. S. degree from Yale in 1927 and then went to Princeton to pursue a Ph.D. in geology (1932).

Through the years, Hess held an assortment of positions, primarily academic, relating to geology. After completing his degree at Princeton, he taught at Rutgers University for one year (1932-1933), and assisted with research in the geophysical laboratory in the Carnegie Institute of Washington, D.C. (1933-1934). In 1934, Hess joined the Princeton teaching faculty-gaining full professorship in 1948-a post he would maintain until his death. At Princeton, Hess served as the chairman of the Geology Department (1950-1966), and was the sixth Blair Professor of Geology (1964). In addition to his teaching at Princeton, Hess spent two years abroad as a visiting professor at Capetown University, South Africa (1949-1950), and Cambridge University, England (1965).

While a graduate student, Hess began research in the fields of marine geological and geophysical studies by measuring the earth's gravity field aboard a U. S. Navy submarine in the Caribbean. Hess was given a commission as lieutenant in the U. S. Naval Reserve as a means to facilitate his work on Navy subs during subsequent trips. When called to active duty during World War II in 1941, Hess was initially assigned to enemy submarine detection in New York City. He created a successful system to predict German submarine location and kept the New York waterways safe. Hess then went on to other assignments in the Pacific, including landing at Iwo Jima. While traveling on the "Cape Johnson," Hess conducted echo-sounding surveys and discovered submerged, flat-topped seamounts between Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands. He named his seamounts discovery "guyots," in homage to the founder of the Princeton geology department and the first Blair Professor, Arnold Guyot. After being discharged in 1946, Hess remained active in the Naval Reserve, gaining the level of rear admiral in 1961.

With the assistance of Princeton, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, several oil companies, and the governments of Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Colombia, Hess established the Caribbean Research Project in 1947. As a result of this project, Caribbean geology was investigated extensively, particularly by graduate students, who used their data as the basis for their Ph.D. dissertations. Hess also proposed the Mohole Project (1958), which had the objective of drilling a hole through the ocean's "Moho," the Mohorovicic seismic discontinuity separating the mantle of the earth, to take core samples, and he originated a theory of ocean-floor spreading and continental drift (early 1960s).

Hess's interest in rocks was not confirmed to the earth: He was the chairman of the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences (1962) and a collaborator with several committees of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (1963), including being involved with the first moon landing, which occurred only one month before his death.

In keeping with his varied scientific interests, Hess was a member of innumerable committees, societies, and organizations relating to geology, oceanography, and space science. Furthermore, he authored many articles and book chapters on these subjects.

Hess died of a heart attack on 25 August 1969, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, while presiding at a Space Science Board conference. He was buried in the Arlington National Cemetery. Hess was survived by his wife of 35 years, Annette (Burns), and their two sons, George Burns and Frank Deming Mather.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
contributorOf OCEAN FLOOR United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Drake, Charles L. Oral history interview with Charles L. Drake, 1995, November 28, 1996 May 22, and 1997 May 20. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Worzel, J. Lamar (John Lamar), 1919-2008. Oral history interview with J. Lamar Worzel, 1996, January 2 and 3 and May 14 and 15. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Hamilton, Edwin L. (Edwin Lee), 1914-. Papers, 1933-1995. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
creatorOf Hess, Harry Hammond, 1906-1969. H. H. Hess papers, 1932-1969. Princeton University Library
creatorOf Revelle, Roger, 1909-1991. Papers, 1929-1976, bulk 1946-1976. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
creatorOf Menard, Henry W. (Henry William), 1920-1986. Papers, 1938-1986, bulk 1960-1986. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
creatorOf H. H. Hess Papers 1932-1969 Princeton University
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
employeeOf Carnegie Institute corporateBody
associatedWith Drake, Charles L. person
associatedWith Geological Society of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Hamilton, Edwin L. (Edwin Lee), 1914- person
associatedWith International Geological Congress. corporateBody
associatedWith Menard, Henry W. (Henry William), 1920-1986. person
associatedWith Mohole Project. corporateBody
memberOf National Academy of Sciences (U.S.). Space Science Board. corporateBody
alumnusOrAlumnaOf Princeton University corporateBody
employeeOf Princeton University corporateBody
associatedWith Princeton University. Caribbean Research Project. corporateBody
associatedWith Project Apollo (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Revelle, Roger, 1909-1991. person
employeeOf Rutgers University corporateBody
associatedWith United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration corporateBody
associatedWith United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. corporateBody
memberOf United States. Navy corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Office of Naval Research. corporateBody
associatedWith Worzel, J. Lamar (John Lamar), 1919-2008. person
alumnusOrAlumnaOf Yale University. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Caribbean 02 CU
New York City NY US
Princeton NJ US
Woods Hole MA US
Geology--20th century
Geology--Study and teaching--20th century
Geology--Field work--20th century
Seismology--Research--20th century
Continental drift
Geologists--20th century
Geology--Research--20th century


Birth 1906-05-24

Death 1969-08-25



Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w64m9bj0

Ark ID: w64m9bj0

SNAC ID: 14898456