Richards, Horace Gardiner, 1906-1984

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Horace G. Richards (1906-1984) was a geologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia and an authority on the geologic formations of the Atlantic coastal plain. His research specialty focused on geology and paleontology of the Quaternary Period (approximately the past 1.8 million years), but his research interests also included marine Pleistocene geology and paleontology of the Atlantic coastal plain.

Horace Gardiner Richards was born on March 21, 1906 in Philadelphia to Horace Clark Richards and Annie Gardiner Richards. His interest in science was piqued early as his “family had a summer home at Cape May, New Jersey, where abundant fossil beds,” (Fairbridge, page 1) existed. He obtained his education at William Penn Charter School and the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Liberal Arts in 1927, a Master of Science in 1929, and a Doctorate of Philosophy in zoology and geology in 1932.

From 1929 to 1931, Richards worked with the United States Bureau of Fisheries, surveying marine life of the New Jersey coast. From 1931 to 1932, he served as the Associate Curator of Mollusks at the U.S. National Museum in Washington, DC. He then went on to serve as research associate at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, New Jersey from 1934 to 1940. He served as a geologist for the Groundwater Division of the United States Geological Survey, located in Trenton, New Jersey from 1949 to 1971.

In 1937, he began working at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He served the Academy in a number of different capacities for the rest of his life. He worked as a Research Associate from 1937 to 1942, as Associate Curator of Geology and Paleontology from 1942 to 1960, as Chairman of the Department of Geology and Paleontology from 1960 to 1972, and Curator Emeritus from 1972 until his death. According to Richards, “during [his] tenure at the Academy, [he did] field work on Quaternary deposits in most parts of the world (e.g. United States, Arctic, Canada, Caribbean Islands, Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Japan, Taiwan, Fiji Islands, Easter Island, New Zealand) collecting invertebrate fossils from a great many places and bringing them back to the Academy,” (Richards, page 1).

While working with the Academy of Natural Sciences, he organized, with its cooperation, a survey of the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and served as Associate in Paleontology at the North Carolina State Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina from 1941 to 1943. Several years later, Richards developed a similar project at the Academy. The Atlantic Coastal Plain Project began in 1947 and collected and studied fossils and well samples from the coastal plain between Long Island and Florida. The project involved intensive field work and study of deep water wells and oil tests, which resulted in the gathering of large collections of Cretaceous, Tertiary and Quaternary invertebrate fossils. The Atlantic Coastal Plain Project was supported by various oil companies, state geological surveys and other grant funding agencies, such as the Geological Society of America, the American Philosophical Society, the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation. In exchange for a financial contribution towards the project, oil companies received a quarterly report of the findings. These reports provided the companies with valuable information that would have been more costly to obtain themselves. Richards' Atlantic Coastal Plains Project was so successful that in 1960, the Atlantic Coastal Plain Geological Association was formed, which held Field Conferences once year. Richards retired as director of the Atlantic Coastal Plains Project in 1976, and for a short time, the work was continued by Earle A. Shapiro.

In addition to his work at the Academy, Richards lectured, part-time, on geology at the University of Pennsylvania from 1949 to 1971, following a family tradition as both his father and grandfather had taught there as well. In 1960, he was appointed Senior Research Associate at Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York. He also guest lectured and gave presentations at various other institutions around the world. He earned the reputation of being highly devoted to his students, many of who worked with him and contributed to his geological field work. He worked with his sister, Marie A. Richards to raise money for a "Student Research Fund" to support his student assistants.

Richards was active in several professional organizations. He was elected fellow of the Geological Society of America in 1942 and served as a member of the Paleontological Society, the American Malacological Union, the Association Senegalaise pour Etude Quaternaire, and the Cape May Geographic Society. In 1953, he began working closely with the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA). INQUA was founded in 1928 as a society for scientists who study environmental and climate changes throughout the Quaternary period. He also served from 1961 to 1969, as president of INQUA and oversaw the subcommissions, the Shorelines Commission, and Recent Sea Level Changes.

Throughout his career, Richards published almost 300 articles and seven books. He devoted approximately fifty years of his life to the compilation and editing of the Annotated Bibliography of Quaternary Shorelines, which appeared in five volumes and supplements. The compiling of the Annotated Bibliography of Quaternary Shorelines, and the succeeding supplements, was supported by several grants issued by the National Science Foundation.

In 1945, Richards received the “President’s Reward” from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists for his “work on the Cenozoic of the Atlantic Coastal Plain,” (Fairbridge, page 1). He also received the “Distinguished Alumnus Award” from the William Penn Charter School in 1971 and was named honorary research associate in paleontology at the Delaware Museum of Natural History in 1974.

Horace G. Richards died on November 19, 1984 in Philadelphia. He is remembered as “a leading East Coast specialist in Cenozoic mollusca,” (Fairbridge, page 1).


Fairbridge, Rhodes W. “Memorial to Horace Gardiner Richards (1906-1984).” The Geological Society of America, 1984.

Richards, Horace G. Resume (located in Biographical File of the Archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia), circa 1974.

From the guide to the Horace G. Richards papers, 1928-1984, (Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn New Jersey Folklore Society (1945-1951). Records, 1945-1951. Rutgers University
referencedIn H. A. Pilsbry papers, Bulk, 1900-1953, 1885-1957 Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
creatorOf Horace G. Richards papers, 1928-1984 Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
creatorOf McHarg, Ian L. Ian L. McHarg papers, 1942-2001. University of Pennsylvania, Architectural Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. corporateBody
associatedWith American Association of Petroleum Geologists. corporateBody
associatedWith American Geological Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith Atlantic Coastal Plain Geological Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Geological Society of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Geological Society of New Jersey. corporateBody
associatedWith International Union for Quaternary Research. corporateBody
associatedWith McHarg, Ian L. person
associatedWith Morton, Samuel George, 1799-1851 person
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Mollusks corporateBody
associatedWith New Jersey Folklore Society (1945-1951) corporateBody
associatedWith Philadelphia Geological Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Pilsbry, Henry Augustus, b. 1862 person
associatedWith Shorelines Commission of INQUA. corporateBody
associatedWith Sun Oil Company. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Bureau of Fisheries. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Office of Naval Research. Geography Branch. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Pennsylvania. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Cape May (N.J.)
Atlantic Coastal Plain Project
Coastal plains
Oil wells


Birth 1906

Death 1984



Ark ID: w6447xp7

SNAC ID: 30983476