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CGS: A Legacy of the Gold Rush

The California Geological Survey is practically as old as the state, and like California has grown and evolved since the mid-1800s. CGS was known first as the California State Mining Bureau, then as the Division of Mines and Mining, then the Division of Mines.

Identified in statute these days as the Division of Mines & Geology, the Department of Conservation's oldest division has a new identity for the 21st Century to better reflect the nature of its current work. Thus, it is called the California Geological Survey.

For the first 47 years of the division's existence, the chief was appointed by and reported directly to the governor. When state government became too large for that, the division became part of the Department of Natural Resources (1927), which in turn became the Resources Agency in 1961.

While the California State Mining Bureau didn't come into being until 1880, John B. Trask of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco was named Honorary State Geologist in 1851 -- two years after the gold rush began and one year after statehood.

In 1860, the Legislature budgeted $20,000 for a new state geological survey. Among those hired by State Geologist Josiah D. Whitney were Clarence King, who would go on to become the first Director of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The need for information about the gold mining industry led on April 16, 1880, to the establishment of the State Mining Bureau. Henry G. Hanks was the first State Mineralogist. The Bureau's stated goal was ``to encourage the development of the great mineral resources of California.'' The just-opened Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco became the Bureau's headquarters in 1899.

Hanks' successor, William Ireland Jr., had slightly different priorities. Ireland published the first geologic map of the state. It was the largest scale map (1 inch equals 12 miles) at the time. Production of geologic maps remains a major CGS activity.

In 1915 -- in response to the growing problem of water intruding into oil fields -- the Bureau was given responsibility for all aspects of oil and gas operations in the state. The Department of Petroleum and Gas (later the Division of Oil and Gas) and the office of Oil and Gas Supervisor were created, reporting to the State Mineralogist, Fletcher Hamilton.

In 1916, Hamilton published the second colored geologic map of the state. Three years later, four geographical divisions were established and district field offices were set up in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Redding and Auburn. In 1923, the Redding and Auburn districts and field offices were consolidated and moved to Sacramento.

The Bureau began a series of mineral commodities reports under Hamilton and his successor, Lloyd Root (1923-28). The evolution from record keeping and reporting to a more sophisticated geological survey had started. The California State Mining Bureau became the Division of Mines and Mining in 1927 and the Division of Mines the following year.

In the 1930s, the State Mining Board, appointed by the governor, replaced the Board of Trustees that had provided policy oversight to the Bureau. The State Mining and Geology Board was established in 1961

Olaf P. Jenkins joined the Division of Mines in 1928 and undertook some major projects. He published a new geologic map of the state in 1938 and five years later published a landmark work on California's oil and gas fields. Jenkins became the State Mineralogist in 1947 and split the division into two administratively equal parts: the Mining Engineering Branch and the Geology Branch. He began publication of Mineral Information Service on a monthly basis.

Aside from ducking under doorframes, the Division paid little heed to earthquakes until 1952, when it was asked to edit a report on the Arvin-Tehachapi quake and aftershocks. Although the Mining Bureau had been headquartered in San Francisco at the time of the 1906 earthquake, the only mention of the disaster in a Bureau publication was about $1,500 in damage sustained by Bureau facilities.

Jenkins retired in 1958 and was replaced by Dr. Ian Campbell, professor of geology at the California Institute of Technology. His work prompted the Division's name change to Division of Mines and Geology and the designation from State Mineralogist to State Geologist in 1961. He also introduced the Division's geologic hazards program and established the state rock (serpentine), mineral (gold) and fossil (saber-toothed tiger).

CGS moved its headquarters to Sacramento in 1970. The San Fernando earthquake of the following year brought about legislation and programs designed to mitigate earthquake danger, such as the Strong Motion Instrumentation Program ('71), the Alquist-Priolo Special Studies Zones Act ('72) and the Hospital Safety Act ('73).

Today, John Parrish is the State Geologist, stepping into the position in 2005 after serving for a decade as Executive Officer of the State Mining and Geology Board. He replaced James F. Davis, who held the position for more than 25 years before retiring in 2004. Providing analysis of California's geologic hazards -- such as the ongoing effort to map areas prone to liquefaction and landslides during earthquakes is an ongoing project -- and providing information on mineral resources continue to be CGS' focus.

CGS isn't as concerned with gold mining as it once was. The challenge now is to adapt new technology to help make California a safer place to live while at the same time performing CGS' historic duty of minding the state's mineral resources.

The information in this article was taken from ``The State Geological Surveys: A History,'' by Arthur A. Socolow.

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