Geological Surveys of Texas

By: William L. Fisher

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: January 1, 1995

The Bureau of Economic Geology, the oldest and one of the largest research units at the University of Texas at Austin, has filled the role of state geological survey since 1909. Before 1909 the Texas legislature established and funded state geological surveys, beginning in 1858 with the Geological and Agricultural Survey of Texas. The first survey was sustained by annual appropriations and was independent of any other institution. Benjamin Franklin Shumard was named state geologist. After four years, the legislature suspended the survey until the end of the Civil War. It was reestablished in 1866 and continued for one more year. In 1870 the legislature formed the second geological survey, with John W. Glenn as state geologist. Like the first, the second survey was surrounded by political turmoil. It finally began work in 1873 and survived only three years.

The third survey of the nineteenth century, the Geological and Mineralogical Survey, was established in 1888 by the Twentieth Legislature as part of the Commission of Agriculture, Insurance, Statistics, and History. It received state appropriations for six years and continued without funding for an additional five years before it officially ended in 1901. Under the direction of Edwin T. Dumble, the third survey produced the scientific work that laid the foundation of Texas geological research. The annual reports of the survey contained studies of the regional geology of the state as well as special papers on mineral resources, including lignite, which was one of the most important commodities of the time (see COAL AND LIGNITE MINING). Despite its accomplishments, the survey was the subject of a fight in the Twenty-third Legislature and was denied funding by Governor James S. Hogg in 1893. When funding was reconsidered in 1895, Governor Charles A. Culberson also vetoed the budget. During the disputes over the survey, the legislature transferred the library, records, and collections of the survey to the University of Texas.

In 1901, when it established the University of Texas Mineral Survey, the Twenty-seventh Legislature began to shift responsibility for the survey to the university. The mineral survey was directed by William Battle Phillips and reported to the UT board of regents. Its specific mission was to survey public school and university lands and assess their mineral value. In its four years of existence, the survey studied mineral districts, commodities, and state mining laws and produced eight publications and maps.

The transfer of the geological survey to the university became complete in 1909, when the UT regents founded the Bureau of Economic Geology. The board recognized the usefulness of the mineral survey to the state and its practical role in providing scientific information to the public through the university. Phillips became the bureau's first director, a position he held from 1909 to 1915. In 1911 the organization was renamed Bureau of Economic Geology and Technology. A reorganization in 1915 established separate heads for a Division of Economic Geology, a Division of Engineering, and a Division of Chemistry. In 1925 these divisions became independent, together called the Division of Natural Resources.

The Bureau of Economic Geology was housed on campus for many years and moved to new facilities at the Balcones Research Center (see J. J. PICKLE RESEARCH CAMPUS) in 1984, the year of its seventy-fifth anniversary. For decades the bureau was a small organization with a staff of not more than a dozen professional scientists. With the increasing demands on Texas resources, the bureau grew to a staff of 150 by the mid-1980s. The research staff of eighty included geologists, chemists, biologists, engineers, and computer scientists supported by a staff of seventy in administration, editing, cartography, word processing, public information, curatorial work, and rock analysis.

At that time the bureau had published more than 600 reports and nearly 400 maps covering nearly every aspect of the geology and resources of Texas. About 1.5 million reports and maps had been distributed or sold to help inform individuals, public agencies, and private organizations about the development and utilization of the state's energy, mineral, and land resources.

Walter Keene Ferguson, History of the Bureau of Economic Geology, 1909–1960 (Austin: Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin, 1981). William L. Fisher, "Understanding the Earth," Discovery: Research and Scholarship at the University of Texas at Austin, 1984. Peter T. Flawn, Geology in the State Government of Texas (University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, Geological Circular 65-5 [November 1965]).
  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Labor
  • Government and Labor
  • Politics and Government

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

William L. Fisher, “Geological Surveys of Texas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995