Department of Geological Sciences celebrates 150th anniversary

Take a digital walk through the department’s history and milestones, from its creation to today.

Jan. 24, 2022

This year, the University of Missouri Department of Geological Sciences is celebrating its 150th anniversary. A lot has changed since its birth as a course offering in the early 1840s and official department status in 1871. Below are a few milestones to take note of. Visit the 150th anniversary website for a detailed history.


Classes at the university (then called the University of the State of Missouri) began in 1841. Students took geology classes as part of their junior or senior year rotation. The first geology course made the campus catalogue in 1843.


In 1871, Switzler Hall (originally named Scientific Hall, then Agricultural Hall) was built in what is now known as Francis Quadrangle, and the first classes for the new MU College of Agriculture and Practical Arts were held there. The building is the oldest classroom building still on campus.


With Geology as its own department, minerology and lithology classes were offered, along with geology and paleontology classes. A natural history museum was erected on campus that featured a taxidermy Asian elephant, whale jawbone and more.


Construction started on Swallow Hall (then called The Museum, Zoological/Geological Building, School of Business and Commerce), the new home of the Departments of Geology and Geography.


Edwin Bayer Branson, department chair and professor, organized a summer field camp near Lander, Wyoming. Ten student geologists attended camp that year. Today, the camp is ranked as one of the best in the country, inviting about 40 students from all over the U.S to participate each summer.


The department saw large growth during the late 1940s and early 1950s, graduating 31 students with bachelor’s degrees, 19 with their master’s and two doctoral students in 1950, with only seven full-time faculty.


In 1965, the new Geological Science Building was built, which continues to house the Department of Geological Sciences today.


Beginning in the late '70s, the Department of Geology began offering a five-year, dual-degree program.


The Department of Geology became the Department of Geological Sciences in 1991. At the time, the Geology Museum contained more than 100,000 specimens and the Geology Library housed more than 59,000 volumes, more than 680 periodicals and 125,000 maps that covered all aspects of geology.


The department currently offers classes such as Planet Earth, Introduction to the Earth, Environmental Geology, Earth and Life Through Time, Dinosaurs, and more. It currently has 12 faculty members, 30 graduate students and an array of cutting-edge lab facilities to prepare students for the 21th century — when earth science is at the center of many major challenges in our society.

Read more from the Department of Geological Sciences

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