Eugene McDermott

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Eugene McDermott
Eugene McDermott headshot.jpg
President year 1933
Membership Honorary Member

Eugene McDermott (February 12, 1899- August 24, 1973) was a pioneering geophysicist and one of the founders of Texas Instruments. He served as the 1933-1934 SEG President.

Memorial [1]

Contributed by Cecil H. Green

The petroleum exploration industry lost a great pioneer and mankind lost a wonderful friend when Eugene McDermott died at his home in Dallas on August 24, 1973. after a long and courageous struggle with cancer.

Early Years and Education

Eugene McDermott was born in Brooklyn, N. Y., on February 12, 1899. He graduated in electrical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1919. After working as an engineer, first with Goodyear Rubber Co., then with Western Electric Co. he obtained an M.A. degree in physics from Columbia University in 1925. He then joined the newly organized Geophysical Research Corp., a subsidiary of Amerada Petroleum Co. as Vice President. J C. Karcher's first technical assistant. He was soon placed in charge of GRC's instrument laboratory in Bloomfield. N. J. where he was responsible for guiding seismic instrument design and fabrication.

Early Career

In 1926 GRC elected to add contract operations and so Eugene was transferred to the Gulf Coast to become party chief of one of the first such crews contracted to Gulf Producing Co. During the following two years this particular refraction crew established an all-time record by discovering as many as ten salt domes in southern Louisiana. In June 1928, Mr. Mac, as he began to be called, was promoted to Supervisor for West Texas Operations with headquarters at Odessa. His analytical ability, coupled to a strenuous work schedule often twenty hours per day were instrumental in Gulf acquiring a major position in many New Mexico oil fields. In the spring of 1929 he moved his supervisory office to Houston.

Geophysical Service International

The need for a new and completely independent service company became apparent and so in early 1930. E. L DeGolyer and J. C. Karcher decided to organize Geophysical Service Inc. (GSI) with Karcher as president and McDermott as vice-president. In spite of the prevailing country-wide depression, contracts for the first ten field crews were sold within a month a good indication of the merits of the newly introduced reflection seismic method and the recognized abilities of Karcher and McDermott.

Mr. Mac was president of GSI from 1939 to 1949. During this period a reorganization of the company occurred in late 1941 with J. Erik Jonsson, H. B. Peacock and Cecil H. Green, as co-founders of what later evolved into Texas Instruments Inc. McDermott served as chairman until 1958, then as chairman of the executive committee until 1964. He continued as a director until his death.

Service to SEG

Eugene McDermott contributed, importantly to the SEG from its very beginning, serving as its third president in 1933-34. He was also the author of several early papers on reflection seismograph techniques, as well as the introduction of geochemistry as a supplementary exploration method. The SEG recognized his past accomplishments with Honorary Membership in 1971.

He had a natural talent for selecting capable people plus a ready willingness to delegate authority and responsibility all of which made him stand out as a well-rounded administrator. In the post-World War II years he gained increasing time to spread more widely his versatile talents, especially for the benefit of mankind. Thus more recently we find him deeply involved in measuring the physiological development of children, resulting in his being the principal author of a scientific paper on the Relation of Human Symmetry and Behavior.

Family and Philanthropy

Both Eugene and his wife, Margaret, are admired also for their contributions to the arts, particularly to the theatre, music, sculpture, painting, plus horticulture and the beauty of our total environment. For these worthy endeavors he was honored in 1964 by the Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He was also a well-known leader in the development of technical education in Texas. Together with Erik Jonsson and Cecil H. Green, he founded and served as a trustee of the privately supported Southwest Center for Advanced Studies in Dallas its purpose being to foster the regional growth of graduate education and research in science and engineering. The Southwest Center for Advanced Studies later became a part of the state system of higher education as the University of Texas at Dallas thus fulfilling its original mission. The University of Texas at Dallas has named its new library, now under construction, in his honor. In addition to its new administration building, the Southwestern Medical School of the University of Texas at Dallas also plans to establish and name a Center for the Study of Human Growth and Development in his honor.

Eugene McDermott indulged a tremendous personal interest in formal education in all aspects and at all levels. He was a founder, trustee, and former president of St. Mark's School for boys, and a trustee of Hockaday School for girls, both in Dallas. He was a trustee and governor of Southern Methodist University, Area Educational Television Foundation, Southwestern Medical Foundation, Dallas Children's Medical Center, the Callier Hearing and Speech Center, plus being a past member of the Coordinating Board of the Texas Colleges and Universities. In addition, he was a trustee of Stevens Institute, a life member of The MIT Corp., and a member of several of its visiting committees.

His breadth of human interest is further indicated by having been a founder, president of the Margo Jones Theatre in Dallas, Chairman of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library, trustee of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and the Dallas Symphony Association. So, it was quite appropriate that the Dallas Chamber of Commerce elected him in 1972 a Distinguished Citizen "for his magnificent contributions to his city, his state, and his nation in the fields of industry, education, health, culture and the humanities." Then, also, in early 1973 he received the prestigious Linz Award "for contributing the greatest benefit upon Dallas in 1972". Senior education institutions, such as Stevens Institute, University of Dallas and RPI, bestowed Honorary Doctorates. In addition, he received the Santa Rita Gold Medal--the highest award from the University of Texas system. A similar extraordinary honor came from MIT-- an appointment as an Honorary Lecturer in Earth Sciences.

Eugene McDermott is survived by his wife, Margaret Milam McDermott, and a daughter, Mary, who is currently a junior at Stanford University. Three sisters and a brother reside in the New York City area.

Eugene was indeed a wonderful associate and friend. His broad intellectual interests, his compassion for people, his keen sense of fairness, spiced with plenty of Irish wit, gave him the natural ability to inspire his many friends and associates to efforts even beyond their own expectations; so consequently, he will continue to live in our hearts and minds.

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership 1971 [2]

At the outset, it is not possible to press Eugene McDermott into any single classification or category. Indeed, his interests and accomplishments portray an individual with a wide range of talents and attributes.

Early Years and Education

Eugene started out with an Eastern heritage---being born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 12, 1899- where he lived until graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1919 with an M. E. degree. Engineering assignments--first, with Goodyear Rubber Company, and then with Western Electric Company--inspired a desire for graduate studies at Columbia University, which he completed in 1925 with an M. A. degree in physics. He was then ready for a most exciting career challenge, which turned out to be with J. C. Karcher in a distinctly new kind of venture the newly organized Geophysical Research Corporation of Tulsa. The seismic reflection method was introduced by GRC and accepted by the petroleum industry as a promising new tool during the next five years--then in 1930, with Karcher as president and McDermott as vice-president, GSI was launched by the two of them with great momentum.

Geophysical Service International

It was during the first year of the GSI venture that Eugene McDermott hired me and thus began our friendship and close association which have endured for 41 years--a time period which has witnessed many evolutionary changes in technology and also in human affairs. Naturally, am proud of this dual record and so feel a special pleasure in composing these few remarks on the occasion of the SEG electing him to Honorary Membership.

The reflection method was still a new idea in those early days, which means that instruments, mechanical equipment, and techniques were in a very embryonic stage of development. McDermott's ability as an engineer was revealed in his early designs of sensitive, yet rugged, seismometers, amplifiers, filter systems, recording cameras, and related practical field logistics.

His versatility and great interest in probing new frontiers of scientific knowledge that could be applied to petroleum exploration resulted in his evaluation of electrical methods during the mid-thirties and of geochemistry in the early forties. Such investigations are recorded by his several early papers in the Bulletin of the AAPG, as well as in GEOPHYSICS. Five U. S. patents provide further evidence of his curious, yet analytical mind.

Karcher found increasing interest in petroleum development during the mid-thirties, and McDermott became president of GSI. The company was then completely reorganized in late 1941 with Eugene McDermott, H. B. Peacock, J. E. Jonsson, and Cecil Green as co-directors. McDermott continued as president of the new GSI, which after World War II, attained a growth pattern resulting in the present-day Texas Instruments. He is still a director after having served the company for many years until his retirement as chairman.

Mr. Mac, as he was known to many of his associates, has often said that his success was due to surrounding himself with capable people, but he seems to stop short of giving himself credit for good human discernment and the possession of just the right kind of personality to inspire respect and the will to do by others. Motivation of others was natural as he found it easy to delegate authority, to constructively criticize, yet to give credit without stint.

Scientific Interests

His scientific interests became increasingly coupled with a natural human concern for others. Without doubt, the discovery (and production) of petroleum has added immeasurably to our standard of living, but, even beyond this, the quality of life itself has concerned him in several practical ways.

Helping younger people find themselves in terms of natural aptitudes soon aroused his interest in a broad spectrum of education-research pursuits. Thus, for many years he has been deeply concerned with behavioral and medical correlations with basic structural taxonomy of human beings which has involved his support of research through the years at the Universities of Texas, Columbia, Oregon, and Case Western Reserve. He likes to call this Biological Humanics.

The whole gamut of education became a natural corollary to this great interest in human beings, starting with such examples as St. Mark's School in Dallas for boys, of which he was a founder, and on to the university level with current membership on the Boards of Southern Methodist, Southwestern Medical School Foundation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, etc.

Arts and Philanthropy

The wide breadth of his human interests reached also into the arts--as early as 1945 he was the first president of the Margo Jones Theatre in Dallas involving the newly conceived theatre-in-the-round idea. For many years he has actively shared Mrs. McDermott's deep interest in the Dallas Library, The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

These are but the highlights of the full and very productive life of a man who starting out in exploration geophysics, has found this to be also an avenue to so many other worthy pursuits and interests, all with one very important factor in common--a relation to the vital task of trying to improve the quality of life for mankind.

Honors and Awards

Naturally, he has received many honors and distinctions through the years. The SEG gave him earliest recognition by electing him President in 1933. More recently, he has received the Santa Rita Medal--the highest award bestowed by the University of Texas System Development Board. He is an honorary member of both the Dallas Geological Society and the Dallas Geophysical Society, while his old alma mater, Stevens Institute of Technology, has awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree.

Eugene McDermott can be variously referred to as a pioneer geophysicist, scientist, engineer, businessman, a philanthropist, but best of all, we are all proud to know him as a wonderful human being.


  1. Geophysics, Vol. 39, No. 1, February 1974
  2. (1988) Awards Citations of the SEG, Society of Exploration Geophysicists, Tulsa, p. 41

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