Dave Carlton

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Dave Carlton
Dave Carlton headshot.png
Membership Charter and Honorary Member

Dave Pierce Carlton (September 23, 1890- August 23, 1976) was awarded SEG Honorary Membership in 1962 in recognition of his pioneering work in exploration geophysics. Mr. Carlton was a founding member of SEG.

Memorial [1]

David Pierce Carlton passed away Monday, August 23, 1976, in Houston, Texas, where he had been a resident for 54 years. His death came rather suddenly, as a result of a heart attack, even though he had been ill and under treatment for diabetes for quite some time.

Dave, the eldest of three children of Karl S. and Cora Pierce Carlton, was born in Mantua, Ohio, September 23, 1890. When he was five years old, the family moved to Hemet, California, a small community near Riverside, where he graduated from high school. He worked a year or two to earn money for college before entering Stanford University. At Stanford he earned his way be doing odd jobs in the community and at the university, and played clarinet in the band. He received an A.B. degree in geology in 1915, having served as a teaching assistant in mineralogy during his senior year. H was employed by Standard Oil Co. (California) in 1915 and 1916 and worked in the Coyote Hills Field. During 1917 he was employed by Nevada Douglas Consolidated Copper Co.

Early in 1918 Dave went into the U.S. Army and served in France. He was discharged in 1919, with the rank of Sergeant, 1st Class.

Dave Carlton was employed as a geologist by Humble Oil & Refining Co. in 1919, and worked for a few months in Amarillo, Texas. He was then moved to Cisco, Texas, where Humble had acquired holdings in and near the Ranger Field. In 1922 he was transferred to Houston as Division Geologist of the Gulf Coast. After a complete and detailed study of salt domes, he wrote a paper, "West Columbia Salt Dome and Oil Field, Prazoria County, Texas." and presented it in 1924 at AAPG's first meeting in Houston. Later, in 1929, the paper was published in a symposium, Structure of Typical American Oil Fields, Vol. II. In 1924 Dave was chosen as assistant to Wallace E. Pratt, Chief Geologist, to oversee the planning and development of a geophysics organization. Humble, on the advice of Mr. Pratt, had decided to develop its own geophysics rather than rely on contractors who, at the time, were available only from Germany. By early 1925, a small group of five men under the direction of Dr. Norman Ricker had designed and built refraction seismograph equipment for use in the field and had ordered two Suess torsion balances from Hungary. From that time forward Humble's geophysics organization continued to develop and expand, both in field exploration and research, under the watchful guidance of Mr. Carlton. The Geophysics Section of the Geologic, Lease and Scouting Department was established in 1926, with Dave Carlton as Chief Geophysicist. He occupied this position until his retirement September 1, 1955, and served as Geophysical Consultant for the following two years. Although Dave was the driving force of the group for those many years and was responsible for many of its achievements, he never claimed any credit or sought any plaudits for himself.

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership

Contributed by W. M. Rust, Jr.

Dave P. Carlton is a veteran of petroleum geophysics. He received his degree in geology from Leland Stanford University in 1915 and immediately went to work as a roughneck for Standard Oil Company of California. After a year he left the oil industry for the mining industry. When World War I broke out, he enlisted in the army, serving overseas with the 27th Engineers. When discharged in 1919, he came back to the petroleum industry to work for Humble in Amarillo. He soon went to Cisco as Division Geologist and in 1922 moved to Houston. In 1924, he was selected to initiate Humble's geophysical efforts. The history of Humble's geophysics is in many ways the history of Dave Carlton. Many of today's outstanding geophysicists outside Humble had their start under the guidance of Dave Carlton.

Starting from scratch, in less than a year he placed a large-scale refraction crew and a torsion balance crew in the field. From the beginning, Mr. Carlton insisted that Humble have a vigorous geophysical research program. Early he introduced a vital principle into geophysics exploration, namely to proceed from the known to the unknown. The more geophysical pictures of known prospects that we could study, the better he said would we be prepared to interpret geophysical data. A chapter of his history which he particularly cherishes is the contribution of Humble's geophysicists during World War II.

As important as Dave Carlton's many technical contributions to geophysics are, the many men who have worked with him and for him remember him even more for his personal qualifications. Dave Carlton typifies the terms "gentleman" and "scholar." All those who know him love him. At Humble he is affectionately known as "Uncle Dave." It is a great pleasure to me to have the opportunity today to present to Mr. Carlton this certificate of honorary membership in the Society of Exploration Geophysicists in recognition of his contributions as one of the founders of exploration geophysics. It is an honor which is well deserved.


  1. Memorial Geophysics 1977 v. 42 n, 1 p. 205.