Ludwig Blau

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Ludwig Blau
L W Blau headshot.jpg
Membership Charter Member
BSc Mathematics
MSc Physics
PhD Physics
BSc university University of West Texas
MSc university Texas State
PhD university Texas State

Ludwig (Lui) Wilhelm Blau (9 August 1894 - 9 July 1978) was a German born American geophysicist and geochemist. He was a founding member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, the author of the first paper in Geophysics (journal) entitled 'Black magic in geophysical prospecting'[1].

According to a 1985 AAPG paper by Martin J. Davidson "The undisputed father of American geochemical prospecting was Dr. Ludwig W. Blau of Humble Oil, now Exxon."[2]


Blau received a BA in mathematics from West Texas State in 1925. Blau received an MA in physics from the University of Texas in 1926 and a Phd in physics in 1929 under Professor Arnold Romberg.

Lui Blau was hired by Humble Oil and Refining as a Research Geophysicist in 1929. He worked with torsion balances for the location of salt domes. With the stock market crash of 1929, Humble reduced salaries of all employees, but did not lay off anybody. Blau was employed by Humble Oil and Refining in Research Geophysics 1929-1930, in charge of geophysics research from 1930-37 and geophysics and production research from 1937-42.

Wallace Pratt selected Dr. Blau, in the early 1930s to establish the petroleum industry's first geophysical research laboratory, which was located in Houston and which was organizationally a part of the Standard Oil Development Company. Inspired by papers by Gunter Laubmeyer of the Max Planck Institute in 1929, and by Soviet physicist V. A. Sokolov in 1932, Blau investigated and developed methods for petroleum prospecting via geochemical detection of micro-seepages.

During WWII, like many Americans of German birth, he was reassigned to a new position. He became research consultant (patents) from 1942-1959. His work resulted in discovery of several oil and gas fields. He received 53 patents on gravitational, electrical and seismic methods of prospecting and on electric well-logging. He authored numerous papers in professional journals and retired August 9, 1959.

The Lui Blau family moved to a house near Rice University in Houston in 1970 and lived their until Lui's death in 1978.

Life of Ludwig Wilhelm Blau by Dr. Melvin Oakes of the department of Physics, University of Texas

Early Years

L. W. Blau was born in on August 9, 1894 in the town of Graben in the German state of Baden to Lewis W. Blau and Wilhelmina (Suess) Blau. Lui was an active child and one of the leaders in the crusades (fights with wooden swords) of Baden boys (mostly Lutherans) against the next door town of Neudorf boys (mostly Catholics). Lui Blau attended Volksschule in Baden, Germany.

Lui’s grandfather, Phillip Martin Blau, lived with the Lewis Blau family until his death in 1907. He was fond of Lui and taught him to read and after a few years they read Shakespeare and Goethe. His grandfather encouraged him to get an education and enter into a profession. The family talked about moving to Rhodesia, a Germany colony, or the USA, but waited until his death to make the move. In February 1909 the family sold the family house and caught a ship (Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm) from Bremen to New York. Then by train from Jersey City, NJ to Chicago, Omaha, and finally arriving in Garfield, Washington—an eventful train trip.

With the help of Uncle Philip Blau, they purchased a farm in Whitman County near Elberton, Washington and began their new life in the USA. Their house burned and they rebuilt. Lui started to school and was placed in the first grade. He reached an agreement with the teacher that he would not cause trouble provided he could advance in grades as soon as he passed the necessary courses. At the end of ten months he graduated from the eighth grade. Farming was difficult for Lewis Blau and Lui had to drop out of school to help his father. But he continued his education by helping Max and Louise with their homework and reading books whenever possible.

In 1917, the Lewis Blau family moved from Washington State to the panhandle of Texas. Lui and Uncle Philip Blau traveled to Texas where Lui bought two sections of wheat farming and ranch property for the Lewis Blau family in Lipscomb County. In West Texas Lui became a rancher—cowboy. He rode the range and read the dictionary. The sheriff even deputized him to help catch a fugitive. The sheriff’s instructions: “Don’t lay a hand on him. Just tell him what to do. If he doesn’t follow orders—shoot him.” They did not have any trouble with any fugitives.

On Sundays, Lui went to church and met a young girl—her name was Mollie Herber. She was studying to become a school teacher and Lui helped her with the lessons. She passed the TX Teachers Exam and began teaching. They continued dating and in October 1921 they became engaged.

Lui shaved his moustache and sold his horse and saddle (kept his spurs and six-shooter). Lui and Mollie were married on June 4, 1922. Lui’s parents objected to the marriage since she was poor (Mollie and her family were a German peasant family who had emigrated from Ukraine, Russia) and handicapped (lost her left hand in a farming accident). They decided to continue their education and suffer the consequences.


The first step was to obtain an “equivalent” high school degree, which he did. In 1922 Lui and Mollie began a new life under very difficult financial circumstances. They borrowed money and were able to obtain a job teaching rural schools—Mollie taught the elementary school and Lui taught high school—first in Hutchinson Co. and then in Summerfield, TX. While teaching they studied and took correspondence courses from the University of Chicago. After teaching two winters, they moved to Canyon TX & continued their education at West Texas State. To make ends meet Liu said he milked cows belonging to the football coach. There Esther Mollie Blau was born on December 6, 1924. Lui graduated from West Texas State in 1925 with a BA degree in mathematics.

Lui and family moved to Austin TX in 1925. He was a tutor in physics while he worked on his MA at the University of TX (1925-26). The title of his thesis was 'An indicating density-difference hygrometer' M. A. Thesis, 1926, University of Texas at Austin, Physics. In 1927 he is appointed Physics Instructor at an annual salary of $1400. In 1928 he publishes a paper, 'Weight and Humidity' with Arnold Romberg in Science[3].

In 1929 Lui and Charles Paul Boner earn the first Ph.Ds in physics. Lui’s dissertation is entitled, “Torsion balances of short period.” His supervisor is Professor Arnold Romberg, who came from the University of Hawaii where he has developed an interest in seismic measurement.

Romberg joined the faculty at UT Austin in 1923. In 1925 Humble Oil Company ordered two Süss [sometimes spelled Suess] torsion balances from the Süss Nádor Company of Hungary, and Professor Romberg was sent to Europe to obtain all information possible on their use and the interpretation of the data from Director Dezsö Pekár of the Eötvös Institute. Lui and Romberg’s studies provided background for the invention of the LaCoste-Romberg Gravity Meter in 1932.

Professional Career

In summer 1929 Lui’s choice was to take a physics position at the U of Heidelberg or a job with Humble Oil and Refining in Houston TX. Clearly Humble would have followed closely his research work on the torsion balance. He would be a very desirable addition to their staff and could contribute immediately to the efforts to detect minerals with the torsion balance, an idea proposed at the turn of the century by the Hungarian physicist Loránd Eötvös. Lui became a Research Geophysicist for Humble—(later it becomes Exxon). The stock market collapsed in October, however Humble did not layoff people, instead they cut everyone’s salary 10%. In his new job he succeeded and was placed in charge of geophysical research: 1930-1937.

On November 1, 1931, a new girl came into Lui’s life: Margaret Elisabeth Blau. Life was good in Houston TX at their new home on 2027 Colquitt with Mollie, Esther, Margaret and dog Bo.

Lui used the torsion balance to locate and map salt domes. The torsion balance measures small difference in gravity. Salt weighs less than sand, rock, clay and dirt; thus, the earth’s gravity effect over salt domes is smaller. Thus this technique allowed finding the numerous salt domes in the Gulf Coast with their associated oil and gas traps.

Liu was employed by Humble Oil & Refining in Research Geophysics 1929-1930, in charge of geophysics research from 1930-37 and geophysics and production research from 1937-42. During WWII, like many Americans of German birth, he was reassigned to a new position. He became research consultant (patents) from 1942-1959. His work resulted in discovery of several oil and gas fields. He received 53 patents on gravitational, electrical and seismic methods of prospecting and on electric well-logging. He authored numerous papers in professional journals and retired August 9, 1959.

During the 1940s Liu suffered from attacks of gout, he was so seriously affected by gout that he was confined to a wheelchair. The only appealing food he could find in the house was a bowl of cherries. He ate them all and found, the next day, that his gout pain and swelling was considerably reduced. He continued to eat around 6 cherries per day and was gout free until he stopped eating the cherries and the gout returned. Working with his family physician he studied twelve other gout sufferers and recorded that eating cherries helped all of them. His findings were reported in "Cherry diet control for gout and arthritis" (published in Texas Reports on Biology and Medicine Vol. 8, No. 3, 1950). There are a number of more controlled studies reference on the internet that seem to support his conclusions.

Professional and Personal Affiliations

Fellow: AAAS, TX Academy of Science and member of Society of Exploration Geophysics, APS, AAPG, Math Assn. of America, Houston Geological Society, American Geophysics Union, Houston Philosophy Society, Society of Exploration Geophysicist, Sigma Xi and a Reregister Engineer of TX. Also member of National Rifle Association, Houston Engineering Club, Houston Torch Club, and Golf Crest Country Club.

Interest: hygrometry, interferometer, forced vibrations, torsion balance, seismology, gravitational seismic and electrical, chemical and magnetic methods of prospecting, well spacing, drilling mud treatment, estimation of petroleum reserves, development of drilling and production equipment, treatment of diabetes, gouty arthritis, politics an the stock market.

Dr. Blau was listed in American Men of Science, Who’s Who in Engineering, Who’s Who in Commerce and Industry and Who’s Who in Texas.

Dr. Blau enjoyed his retirement life. He liked to play chess with his grandson, Roger. In 1970 he and Mollie moved into their dream home near the Rice campus, in Houston TX. It was their home from 1970 until his death in July 1978. Mollie followed him shortly thereafter in December of the same year.

Service to SEG

Dr. Blau served as Editor of ''Geophysics'' for the years 1932-1933 and 1933-1934[4].


Most of the content of this article is from a web page article from the University of Texas, entitled "The Life of Ludwig Wilhelm Blau" by Dr. Melvin Oakes, reproduced with the permission of the University of Texas.[5]


  1. Blau, L. W. (1936). "BLACK MAGIC IN GEOPHYSICAL PROSPECTING". GEOPHYSICS 1 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1190/1.1437076. ISSN 0016-8033.
  2. Davidson, Martin J., 1985, Overview of vertical migration and surface expression of petroleum, in R. Klusman, Coordinator, Surface and Near-Surface Geochemical Methods in Petroleum Exploration: APGE Spec. Pub. No. 1, p. 1-10.
  3. Romberg, A.; Blau, L. W. (1928). "WEIGHT AND HUMIDITY". Science 67 (1735): 347–347. doi:10.1126/science.67.1735.347. ISSN 0036-8075.
  4. Clark, Dean (2010). "Out of the Past". GEOPHYSICS 75 (5): 75A263–75A271. doi:10.1190/1.3503627. ISSN 0016-8033.
  5. | The Life of Ludwig Wilhelm Blau by Melvin Oakes based a presentation shared by Joe and Margaret Blau Clegg. According to Dr. Oakes "pictures and much of the information in this write-up came from a presentation created and generously shared by Joe and Margaret Blau Clegg."

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