Older and Wiser After 130 Years

The Washington Geological Survey begins
George Bethune, the first State Geologist of Washington

The State-mandated pursuit to understand geology and mineral resources in Washington began on February 25, 1890. The first such entity was called the Washington Mining Bureau, tasked with pursuing mining and mineral resources across the state.

George Bethune, a Canadian-born chemist and mineral assayer was hired as the first State Geologist. He worked in Tacoma, and lived in what is now Stadium High School.

Tacoma was located along the Northern Pacific Railroad, providing access to all of Washington’s mines. As State Geologist, Bethune was required to visit and inspect “on every mine of promise or prospective worth.”

Stadium High School, formerly the Tacoma Hotel
The Washington Geological Survey takes a pause

Unfortunately, political snafu removed the position of the State Geologist and the Mining Bureau in 1891. Though the legislature had appropriated funds to establish the first state geological survey, the actual funding failed to manifest, and the incipient survey was dead on arrival.

With no geological surveying by Washington State between 1892 and 1900, the State’s academic agencies stepped up to the plate. The University of Washington and Washington State University both established Departments of Geology and Mineralogy. Henry Landes was hired as the department head at the University of Washington.

Henry Landes, the second State Geologist of Washington

He was officially appointed by the Legislature as the State Geologist from 1896 to 1897, though the appointment came without any financial support.

The Washington Geological Survey returns

Though his initial State Geologist position fizzled, the determined Landes utilized his political savvy to encourage the legislature to establish an enduring and broader-reaching state geological survey. This was done in 1901, with Landes again appointed as the State Geologist.

This time, despite several name changes, building relocations and administrations, the Survey stuck, and has endured to this day. See the poster below for details.

While the initial purpose of the State Survey has remained unchanged since 1901, its focus has shifted. In the 1960s, the Survey transitioned from the prime directive of assessing mineral resources to more diverse activities, in particular ones that encapsulate the “wide application that geology has on the welfare of mankind.”

Casey Hanell, the 11th (and present) State Geologist of Washington

Toward that end, Survey efforts over the ensuing decades have been increasingly public-minded, involving identifying and assessing geologic hazards and performing geologic mapping at many scales.

Led by our newest State Geologist, Casey Hanell, our present endeavors include: geologic mapping, reclamation of surface mines, lidar collection, geophysics, and geologic hazards research, including for earthquakes, hazardous minerals, landslides, and tsunamis.

We are excited to start a new decade of Survey history!

Timeline of Washington Geological Survey history