Preston Cloud bigraphy, stories - Geologists

Preston Cloud : biography

September 26, 1912 - January 16, 1991

Preston Ercelle Cloud, Jr. (September 26, 1912 – January 16, 1991) was an eminent American earth scientist, biogeologist, cosmologist, and professor. He was best known for his work on the geologic time scale and the origin of life on Earth, and as a pioneering ecologist and environmentalist.

Early life

Cloud was born in West Upton, Massachusetts and grew up in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania where he developed a love for the outdoors. Upon graduating from high school, Cloud spent three years in the United States Navy (1930–1933) where he excelled at boxing.

Higher education

Despite the difficulties of finding employment and getting into a four year college during the Great Depression, Preston paid for his own first semester at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C..

An influential figure in Cloud's life was Dr. Ray Bassler, curator of paleontology at the National Museum of Natural History, who noticed Cloud's interest and arranged for him to work at the museum. Later, he worked with G. Arthur Cooper, a paleontologist and stratigrapher. Though working full-time at the museum he graduated in 1938, earning a Bachelor of Science degree. Cooper helped Preston to attend his first semester at Yale University, where he swiftly earned his Ph.D. degree in Geology and Paleontology in 1940.


  • 1941, awarded the A. Cressey Morrison Award in Natural History, New York Academy of Science
  • 1956, awarded the Rockefeller Public Service Award
  • 1956, elected an honorary fellow of the Paleontological Society of India
  • 1959, awarded the Department of Interior Distinguished Service Award
  • 1961, elected to the National Academy of Sciences
  • 1969, elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 1971, awarded the Paleontological Society of America Medal
  • 1973, awarded the Lucius Wilbur Cross Medal of the American Philosophical Society
  • 1973, elected to the American Philosophical Society
  • 1976, awarded the Penrose Medal by the Geological Society of America
  • 1977, awarded the Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal by the National Academy of Sciences
  • 1980, elected a Foreign Member, Polish Academy of Sciences

Personal life

In graduate school, Preston was engaged to Mildred Porter. When Preston resigned from Harvard, they were divorced. In his time at Washington, he married Frances Webster, with whom he had three children, Karen, Lisa and Kevin. The family moved to Minnesota in 1961, and though Preston and Frances were amicably divorced in 1963, two years later Preston relocated the entire family to Santa Barbara, California when he accepted a professorship at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In Santa Barbara, Preston met and, in 1973, married Janice Gibson, an opera singer and mother of three children, Morgan, Dante, and Amanda. Preston and Janis remained together for the remainder of his life. Preston Cloud died at home, on January 16 1991, of pneumonia, brought on as a complication of Lou Gehrig's disease.

Professional Career

Cloud's professional career alternated between the United States Geological Survey (where he was chief paleontologist from 1949-1959) and academia (Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy, 1940-41; Harvard University, 1946-1948; University of Minnesota, 1961-1965; then the University of California from 1965 until his death in 1991). While at UCSB he founded that institution's Preston Cloud Research Laboratory, originally dedicated to paleomicrobiology and to studies of the first lunar geological samples from the Apollo 11 space mission.

Cloud was a member of the National Academy of Sciences for thirty years, he was chairman of the Geology Section and occupied positions in its Council and Executive Committee. In 1967-69 he headed the Academy's "Committee on Resources and Man", whose alarming report "Resources and Man" introduced to a wider public, among other things, the work on energy-resources of his friend M. King Hubbert, and the Hubbert peak theory of Peak oil production. He also gave the Hadean geologic eon, Earth's earliest, its name, using the Greek word for the Underworld to refer to a molten state of constant heat.

Cloud was the author of over 200 scientific and lay publications: notably, his 1978 book, "Cosmos, Earth, and Man: A Short History of the Universe", written for a general readership, has been called 'one of the first and finest presentations of "a more ample and more coherent picture of the world"' (Alles), and his 1988 "Oasis in Space: Earth History from the Beginning" a "comprehensive work of synthesis and reflection... a documented history of the earth and life on it... and an impressive capstone to his remarkable scholarship" (Crowell).

One of Cloud's scientific heirs, his nephew John P. Grotzinger, is the Project Scientist for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover Mission Team.


  • Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 136, No. 2 (Jun., 1992), pp. 280–287
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