Elias Howard Sellards

Elias Howard Sellards
Director, 1932–1945

Elias Howard Sellards, the third director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, was born in Carter, Kentucky, on May 2, 1875. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1899 and 1900, respectively, at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. He was awarded both a scholarship and a fellowship at Yale University, where he completed his doctorate in paleontology in 1903.

After graduating from Yale, Sellards taught geology and mineralogy for a year at Rutgers College, before becoming a professor of geology and zoology at the University of Florida in 1904. In 1907 he was named the first state geologist of Florida and held that position until 1918.

Sellards moved to Texas in 1918, joining the Bureau of Economic Geology as a geologist. He was promoted to the position of associate director in 1925 and served

in that capacity until he was appointed director in 1932. Sellards also served as a professor of geology and member of the graduate faculty at the University of Texas from 1926 until his retirement.

In addition to his administrative duties at the Bureau and teaching responsibilities at the University, Sellards served as director of the Texas Memorial Museum from 1938 to 1957. In 1945, he stepped back from full-time administrative duties at the Bureau and became director emeritus of the Bureau.

Sellards was the author of several major works and many scientific articles. He published research on fossil plants and insects from the upper Paleozoic of Kansas. He also published papers on the basic geology, land features, mineral resources, and vertebrate fossils of Florida during his tenure at the University of Florida. One of the topics on which he focused attention was finding evidence of ancient human cultures. His discovery of artifacts near Vero Beach drew attention to the earlier than previously thought arrival of man in America. He is the author of Early Man in America, published in 1952 by the University of Texas Press.

At Texas, Sellards published works dealing with structural, stratigraphic, and economic aspects of geology. He also published research on stream terraces, land subsidence, meteor craters, earthquakes, early man, and vertebrate fossils. He was commissioned by the Texas attorney general’s office to study the history of the Red River in conjunction with a boundary dispute with Oklahoma. His testimony helped achieve a favorable settlement for Texas. He is also the author of one of the Bureau’s classic publications—the two-volume compilation The Geology of Texas (Bulletins 3232 and 3401, published in 1933 and 1934, respectively)—which became a standard reference on the stratigraphy, structure, and economic geology of Texas.

In addition to his prolific contributions to the geological literature, Sellards was active in professional societies and participated in many field trips as part of a state-wide paleontological and mineralogical project that he directed. He served as president of the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists in 1938 and president of the Paleontological Society in 1942. He was a councilor of the Geological Society of America from 1938 to 1940 and served as vice president of the organization in 1943. Sellards died on February 4, 1961, in Austin, Texas.
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