Alexander Deussen (1882-1959) was an American geologist, paleontologist, and geophysicist, noted for his comprehensive work in academia, government, and industry. Deussen was the first geologist to recognize that a fault could act as a trapping mechanism for oil. As vice-president of Marland Oils, Deussen headed an extensive geological study of the Gulf Coastal Plain, including directing the first seismic survey of that area.
Early years and education
Alexander Duessen was born in San Antonio, Texas, on January 19, 1882. His parents were likewise natives of San Antonio. Of his grandparents, three were immigrants from Germany who landed at the Port of Galveston and thence continued by oxcart to San Antonio, reaching their destination, one after another, during the years 1851 and 1852. The fourth grandparent was born in South Carolina, of English descent, and came to San Antonio in 1848. Deussen's father worked at the Groos National Bank of San Antonio for more than sixty years and became its vice president, a role he occupied until his death.
As a child, Deussen attended the German-English Grammar School, which gave instruction in both the German and English languages. Later, he entered San Antonio High School and upon graduation was admitted to the University of Texas. From this institution he obtained his bachelor's degree in 1903 and his master's degree in 1904. During his undergraduate work Deussen distinguished himself academically and helped defray part of the cost of his schooling by winning two successive scholarships in political science. In his post-graduate years he instructed in zoology. After obtaining his master's degree, he became a member of the faculty of the university, where he taught geology. He continued in this position for ten years.
From 1907 to 1915, Deussen also held the position of assistant geologist at the United States Geological Survey. In 1915 he was employed as a geologist by the Guffy Petroleum Company, the forerunner of the present Gulf Oil Corporation, to work out of the company's headquarters in Houston, Texas. He resigned from these positions in 1916 and opened his own office as a consulting geologist in Houston. He maintained his own practice until his death, except for the years 1924 to 1930, during which period he devoted all of his time to the Marland Oil Company, as vice president in charge of the Gulf Coast region.
In 1924 Duessen initiated and directed the operation of the first seismograph party that undertook to explore the Gulf Coastal Plain. As an executive on the original board of directors of the first service corporation to make electric logging available to American oil producers, he pioneered in the development of this now-indispensable technique. Also in 1924, he established one of the early micropaleontological laboratories for research on Gulf Coast sediments. Much earlier he recommended and directed the drilling of the well that discovered the Blue Ridge oil field in Fort Bend County, Texas. He made similarly direct contributions to the early development of numerous other Texas oil fields, including White's Point, South Dayton, and Thompson.
United States Geological Survey
In 1907 and 1908 Deussen did the field work for Water-Supply Paper No. 335, "Geology and underground water resources of the south-eastern part of the Texas coastal plain," which the United States Geological Survey published in 1914. In this exhaustive study on an area of more than 36,000 square miles, which the text defines as about equal in size to examine closely oil and gas occurrences. In the report he remarks: "It is probable that the gas in the Mexia District is struck in these discontinuous and locally warped sands on the east side of the fault." In 1921 the discovery well in the first of the great fault-controlled fields of East Texas was drilled near the axis of "the Mexia anticline," as determined by other geologists. A few months later, as development proceeded amidst intense excitement, everyone suddenly realized that the oil field had "skidded over," as the local wags expressed it, to come to rest again nearly one-half mile west of the "anticline" but squarely against the fault Deussen had previously mapped and described. Thus, many geologists belatedly came to comprehend the obscurely displayed structure that Deussen had unerringly deciphered fifteen years earlier in his field work.
Deussen's most ambitious study is Professional Paper No. 126, "Geology of the coastal plain of Texas west of the Brazos River," which the United States Geological Survey published in 1924 and the University of Texas re-published in 1930. In this report, Deussen says: "The descriptions and the conclusions here presented are largely the results of field examinations made by the writer from 1909 to 1913." These examinations of an area that covers nearly 38,000 square miles revealed to Deussen that Darst Creek fault, the position of which is accurately shown on his map, and led him to predict that the oil and gas accumulations already in existence in the Corpus Christi district would prove to be controlled by the system of faults he had detected and mapped there. Yet it was not until 1929 that other geologists recognized the conditions that Deussen had perceived in the field work he had begun twenty years earlier, and finally persuaded themselves to recommend the exploratory wells that discovered the major oil field subsequently developed at Darst Creek.
The distinctive quality of Deussen's mind is indelibly stamped on the pages of these two geological studies, characterized by a wealth of detail; patient, accurate observation; sure deduction; and restraint of all impulse toward speculation. His has not only the infinite capacity for taking pains, but also an almost intuitive detection and interpretation of obscure surface evidences of underlying geological structure in the expressionless outcrops of the sediments he maps and describes. Even more remarkable is the clear vision that enabled him to anticipate, many years before fault-controlled oil fields became a reality, that this type of geologic structure would prove to be of major importance to the oil industry in Texas.
Alexander Deussen and Sue Campbell Deussen, his wife, established their commodious ranch-home, Deussendale, in the broad valley of Elm Creek that meanders across the maturely dissected outcrop of the Lower Cretaceous in northeastern Texas. Significant of the character of the man is the fact that in the intimacy of their home, Mrs. Deussen who, as a girl was a student in his classes, still refers to her husband with half-mischievous, half-differential affection as "the Professor." By a singular (but appropriate) coincident, the neighboring village is called Ponder, and it was inevitable, in view of the circumstance, that among his friends Deussen should come to bear the sobriquet, Sage of Ponder.
Throughout his adult life Alexander Deussen kept a diary. The document exemplifies the character of its author—painstaking, precise, detailed. It recorded fully and conscientiously the weather; the business of the day; the time he went to lunch; where he lunched and with whom; the time he returned to the office and the time he left for the day. On more than one occasion this exact record accompanied him when he went into court as an expert witness. Always it constituted unimpeachable evidence. However unusual the incidents recorded, the methodical style of the diary went unruffled:
- "August 23, 1905, this day I married Sue Burnett Campbell at Denton, Texas. Left for Austin, Texas, for our future home this night via the M. K. & T. Railway."
Of medium physique and far from erect in posture, Alexander Deussen achieved, nevertheless, a singular dignity of bearing and a forceful presence. His was diffident in nature, and the austere, all but gruff, manner he often displayed toward strangers doubtlessly reflected this trait. Recently, an intimate friend, Morgan Davis, has portrayed him graphically:
- "It was in 1928 when the train carrying a party of Houston geologists to the Los Angeles AAPG convention stopped for an hour in Albuquerque.... His reserved manner which was somewhat in contrast to his highly intelligent, alert brown eyes; his kindly but searching questions regarding geology of the area; his old-fashioned, high Belmont collar and conservative clothes, again somewhat in contrast with a twinkling sense of humor which seemed about to break out momentarily; these are still vivid impressions of my first meeting with Alexander Deussen."
Throughout his professional career Deussen maintained an office as a consulting geologist in Houston, Texas, dividing his time between that office and his ranch home. As the years passed he constantly restricted his clientele, devoting himself more and more exclusively to his own independent search for oil. Nevertheless, his prestige continued to expanded and he came to be known very widely as the "dean of Gulf Coast petroleum geologists."
Although he took no conspicuous part in public affairs, he nourished a keen sense of civic responsibility. Among other extensive benefactions he conveyed to Harris County, Texas, in 1954, a beautiful 200-acre site on Lake Houston and dedicated it to the public as a park and play grounds. This popular recreation center came to be known as Alexander Deussen Park.
Alexander Deussen was a member of these honorary, professional, and scientific societies:
- Phi Beta Kappa
- Sigma Xi
- American Association of Petroleum Geologists (Past President) (awarded honorary membership, 1953)
- Geological Society of American (fellow)
- American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Houston Geological Society (honorary member)
- Houston Philosophical Society
- Society of Economic Geologists
- Texas Geographical Society
- Society of Exploration Geophysicists
- Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists
- American Petroleum Institute
- Texas State Historical Association
- West Texas Historical Association.
During the early morning hours of Saturday, September 5, 1959, death came to Alexander Deussen. At Flow Hospital, Denton, Texas, near his ranch home in the little town of Ponder, Texas, Deussen came to his sudden, though peaceful, end. Those of his immediate family who survived him are his wife, Sue Campbell Deussen, their daughter Lucile Deussen McRae, and his grandson, Alexander Deussen McRae.
Perhaps no other individual has contributed more to the welfare of the AAPG than Alexander Deussen. He served as its second president during the fateful period of its infancy when its survival was by no means assured. At the end of his own administration, with consummate judgment and tact, he selected and (all but single-handedly) secured the election of his successor, William Embry Wrather. Once he relinquished the office of president, his continuing deep concern for the success of the Association gained for him the unofficial, but generally recognized, title of "elder statesman." That title he retained throughout the rest of his life.
Resolution of regret and sympathy by the AAPG ExCOM
At its first meeting after his death, the Executive Committee adopted a special resolution of regret and sympathy worded as follows:
- WHEREAS, Alexander Deussen, an honorary member of The American Association of Petroleum Geologists, passed away on September 5, 1959; and
- WHEREAS, Mr. Deussen had an outstanding career as a petroleum geologist, and enjoyed the affection, admiration and respect of the geological profession; and
- WHEREAS, Mr. Deussen was one of the organizers and second president of the AAPG and saved it from collapse during a period of stagnation; and
- WHEREAS, we have lost our mentor, our guide and beloved friend, who will endure in our hearts;
- NOW THEREFORE, be it resolved that our high esteem for our friend, Alexander Deussen, be published in the AAPG Bulletin, and copies be delivered to hsi family as an expression of sympathy from the members of the AAPG.
Repeatedly during his lifetime the Association honored Alexander Deussen. In 1947 it bestowed upon him, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to petroleum geology, the Sidney Power Memorial Award. In 1953 he was elected to Honorary Membership.
- Pratt, W. E., 1947, Alexander Deussen-Sydney Powers Memorial Medalist, Bull. Amer. Assoc. Petrol. Geol., Vol. 31, No. 5, (May), pp. 829-34.
- Pratt, W. E., 1960, Memorial of Alexander Deussen (1882-1959), Bull. Amer. Assoc. Petrol. Geol., Vol 44, No.3 (March 1960), pp. 371-377.