William Smith

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Smith, William,

1769–1839, English geologist. Through direct observation as a canal-site surveyor, Smith made a systematic study of the geological strata of England and identified the fossils peculiar to each layer. He thereby introduced the method of estimating, from the fossils present, the age of geological formations. His large (8 1-2 ft × 6 ft/2.6 m × 1.8 m) and accurate geological map, titled A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with Part of Scotland (1815), was one of the first of its kind and was followed by similar maps of English counties. Smith is widely known as the father of English stratigraphic geology and field paleontology.


See S. Winchester, The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology (2001).

Smith, William


Born Mar. 23, 1769, in Churchill, Oxfordshire; died Aug. 28, 1839, in Northampton. English geodesist and geologist.

Smith is known for his works on the identification of Meso-zoic sedimentary rocks in southeastern England. These works laid the foundations for historical geology and stratigraphy as independent geological sciences. Smith showed that layers of sedimentary rocks exposed in different regions and not directly related can be correlated by the remains of the fossil organisms they contain. Fossils used for this purpose are known as index fossils. Between 1813 and 1815, Smith compiled the first geological map of England; in the map rocks were divided according to age. His discovery that strata can be identified by means of index fossils paved the way for the development of evolutionary ideas in paleontology.

Smith, William (Loughton)

(1758–1812) U.S. representative, ambassador; born in Charleston, S.C. Orphaned at age 12, he was sent to school in London where he became a lawyer in 1774. Returning in 1783, he became a congressman (Fed., S.C.; 1787–97), speculating in government scrip and supporting the federal bank. Ambassador to Portugal (1797–1801), he returned to his law practice and wrote political letters, "The Numbers of Phocion," for the Charleston Daily Courier.
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