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William Battle Phillips
Director, 1909–1915

William Battle Phillips, the first director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, was born July 4, 1857, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He earned an A.B. degree from the University of North Carolina in 1877 and a Ph.D. in mining engineering in 1883. He also studied at the renowned School of Mines in Freiburg, Germany.

Phillips worked as a chemist at the North Carolina Experiment Station (1877–82) and the Navasso Guano Company (1882–85); professor of agricultural chemistry and mineralogy at the University of North Carolina (1886–88); mining engineer, in Birmingham, Alabama (1888–92); professor of chemistry and metallurgy, University of Alabama (1891–93); and chemist, Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railway Company (1894–98).

He was the author of some 300 scientific and technical articles. He also served as

editor of the Engineering and Mining Journal, American Manufacturer, and Iron World in the 1890s. Phillips taught economic geology at the University of Texas from 1900 to 1905. In 1901 he was promoted to the rank of professor of field geology and made the director of the short-lived University of Texas Mineral Survey, predecessor of the Bureau, which lasted until 1905. He worked as a mining engineer from 1905 to 1908.

Phillips became director of the Bureau of Economic Geology in 1909. The name of the organization was changed in 1911 to Bureau of Economic Geology and Technology but was changed back to the original name in 1925. Phillips was a champion for the emerging state survey and fought to keep it strong. He made his priorities clear in a response to a request from the U.S. Geological Survey for data on the mineral resources of the state, which he insisted must be used to benefit the Bureau, as well as the federal survey: “with me, it is Texas first, last, and always and I do not allow anything to interfere.”

His background in mining engineering made it natural for him to focus on the mineral-rich region of Trans-Pecos Texas. Phillips recruited Johan Udden to Texas and hired him as the first field geologist at the Bureau in 1911. He presented a plan to University President S. E. Mezes for Udden to survey the University lands in West Texas. Phillips and Udden developed a close friendship, and it was Udden who succeeded Phillips as Bureau director upon his departure in 1915.

Phillips left the Bureau in 1915 to accept the position of president of the Colorado School of Mines. He returned to Texas in 1916, settling in Houston, where he died June 8, 1918.
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