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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Early Career

(Excerpts from the Cushman Memorial Volume)


Joseph Cushman on horse during his field work in Mexico for Marland Oil in 1923

USGS Beginnings

In 1912 Dr. Cushman became associated with the United States Geological Survey, and during a part of the war years, he did some general field mapping (not related to Foraminifera) in the coastal areas of the Carolinas….Dr. Cushman's first published work bearing on the economic use of Foraminifera appeared as a brief report included in U. S. Geol. Survey Prof. Paper 90-H (Dec. 31, 1914) by L. W. Stephenson on the deep water well at Charleston, South Carolina. It gave impetus to the detailed study of foraminiferal faunas in well sections in commercial work in the petroleum industry.

Connection with Mary Rathbun

Dr. Cushman continued his work at the Boston Society of Natural History, having become Museum Director in charge of Exhibition Collections in 1920. During two earlier summers (1904 and 1905) spent at the U. S. Fish Commission at Woods Hole, he had met Miss Mary J. Rathbun who had urged him to undertake the much-neglected study of Foraminifera. She arranged through her brother, Dr. Richard Rathbun, then head of the U. S. National Museum to have sent up for study the collections of Recent Foraminifera taken by the U. S. Fish Commission Steamer Albatross in her several world-wide expeditions between 1883 and the first decade of the 1900's. Examination and classification of this rich and excellently-preserved material enabled Dr. Cushman to understand more clearly the significance of various features of the tests and to see new family relationships. Publishing in several series, mainly U. S. National Museum Bulletins (Nos. 71, 100, 104, and 161*) and Proceedings, he began the systematic identification and description of the Recent Albatross material. In the earlier of these papers he followed the Bradyian classification in general use at that time, but he soon came to the inescapable conclusion that in his new understanding of the group a new classification was taking form, although it was some years before it became concrete enough to be presented. Following Haeckel's principle of recapitulation as applied to the study of echini by his teacher, Dr. Jackson, and previously by Dr. Alpheus Hyatt to the study of nautiloids, Dr. Cushman began to study the Order Foraminifera as a whole; to recognize the many cases of parallelism and to realize that the structure of the test and the material of which it is made are of greater significance in classification than merely external shape of the test.

Marland Oil Exploration

Dr. Cushman severed his connection with the U. S. Geol. Survey at the end of 1921. Late in 1922 he accepted a position as consultant geologist for the Marland Oil Company and left Boston January 5, 1923, for a few weeks' trip to Mexico on his new commission. The few weeks were extended into a few months and it was not until the end of March that he returned. Characteristically with his mind far ahead, plans had been made during his trip back, for the Laboratory to be built with part of the money received as his fee. Construction of the building was commenced the following Monday morning, April 2nd. The completed Laboratory was ready for occupancy the following August and he continued to carry on his consulting work for Marland with a small staff of laboratory assistants and a representative of the company, and subsequently another company, until the end of 1925. At that time he gave up his connections with consulting work and returned to the U.S. Geological Survey on a part time basis and at a token salary compared to his income of the previous three years, in order to be free to devote his time and energy to pure research. He had resigned from the Boston Society of Natural History in May 1923, shortly after his return from Mexico.

Dr. Cushman and Smithsonian Secretary C. G. Abbot

Here is a series of letters between Dr. Cushman and Smithsonian Secretary C. G. Abbot.

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