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    William Herbert Hobbs

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

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    (William S. Carlson)


            William Herbert Hobbs (1864- ), geologist and leader of four expeditions

    to Greenland, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, July 2, 1864, the son of

    Horace and Mary Paine (Parker) Hobbs. His early education was received at Auburn,

    Massachusetts, Worcester Academy, and Worcester Free Institute of Industrial

    Science, from which he was graduated with a B.Sc. degree in 1883 at the age of 18.

    His training was in drawing, as a designer of industrial fabrics. After a year

    as high school principal at Boylston, Mass., he entered Johns Hopkins University

    as candidate for a Doctor of Philosophy degree. He was awarded his Ph.D. degree

    in geology in 1888 with a dissertation on an area of eruptive rocks near Ilchester,

    Md. Meanwhile, he had become associated with the U.S. Geological Survey (in 1885)

    for field work in the Berkshire Hills. In 1888-89, he studied at Heidelberg, and

    then joined the University of Wisconsin as instructor (later professor) in miner–

    alogy and metallurgy, and curator of the geological museum. In 1894, he became

    associate editor of the Journal of Geology .

            On June 23, 1896, he was married at Evanston, Illinois, to Mrs. Sara Kimball

    Sale, who died in 1940. They had one daughter, Winifred Sara Weston Hobbs, (b. 1899)

    who later became Mrs. Joseph Newhall Lincoln.

            Dr. Hobbs resigned from the Wisconsin in faculty because of a desire to trach

    geology and was appointed professor of geology at the University of Michigan in

    1906. There he remained for 26 years. In addition to his teaching, he filled the

    002      |      Vol_XV-0389                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Carlson: William Herbert Hobbs

    period with a great deal of travel, exploration, writing, lecturing, and civic


            On one of several European trips, he had unparalleled opportunities to study

    the Calabrian earthquake in Spain (1905), and the eruption of Vesuvius (1906),

    both of which were the greatest in a century. He made a record ascent of Mont

    Blanc (lowering the previous record by an hour and a half). He studied glaciers

    in the Canadian Rockies (1909), and made an excursion to Swedish Lapland and to

    Finse, Norway, to study glaciers (1910). In 1911, he published Characteristics of

    Existing Glaciers

            In 1909, one day after Dr. F. A. Cook announced his supposed attainment of

    the North Pole, Hobbs denounced this as a fraud, and later was attacked by Cook

    for his denunciations.

            In 1912-13, Hobbs was of much assistance in connection with the glacier study

    program for the MacMillan-Borup Arctic Expedition, started in 1913.

            Hobbs was an active crusader for American participation in the first World

    War. In 1915, he organized the Ann Arbor Branch of the National Security League,

    and throughout the war was its president. He also served on the national executive

    committee of the league. This interest subsequently led him into similar activity

    in opposition to the League of Nations, against which he wrote many articles and


            In 1917-18, Hobbs was on leave from Michigan to serve as a geography expert

    on "The Enquiry," charged with preparation of material for use of the American

    delegation at the Versailles conference. His report on the Briey Ore Basin, and

    Germany's dependence upon it, was referred by President Wilson to the Army's General

    Staff. In the summer of 1918, he lectured on the war at the University of Pittsburgh,

    and these lectures were published as The World War and Its Consequences . His interests

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    EA-Biography. Carlson: William Herbert Hobbs

    of the postwar period were close to those of General Leonard Wood, whose bid for

    the Republican presidential nomination in 1920 he aided. He published in that

    year a biography of Wood.

            Meanwhile, Hobbs continued his geological studies, and, in 1921, he arranged

    a cruise for study of the growth of mountains in the Pacific area within arcuate

    groups of islands off the Asiatic coast. The U.S. Navy provided a minesweeper

    for a month's cruise, and the Japanese government provided transportation on their

    commercial vessels in the Bonin, Marianna, and Caroline islands, and also on a

    cruiser for several days' voyage from Ponape to Truk. He investigated Yap, the

    Pelews, Dutch East Indies, Philippines, Singapore, and Malay States. Before re–

    turning to the United States, Hobbs went in the spring of 1922 to Delft, Holland,

    to lecture at the university there under an exchange arrangement. During this

    period he lectured at the Sorbonne, and at the Institute of Alpine Geography

    (Grenoble) on his findings in the Pacific. He returned home via the West Indies

    and South and Central America for further study of mountain areas. The Pacific

    voyage was detailed in Cruises Along By-Ways of the Pacific (1923). He returned

    to the Pacific in 1923 (en route, upon invitation of the Australian government,

    to the second Pan Pacific Science Congress, where he delivered two addresses) and

    studied volcanoes of the Hawaiian Islands, with visits also to Tahiti, Cook Islands,

    and New Zealand.

            In 1925, Hobbs began planning the first University of Michigan Greenland ex–

    pedition, which he led the next year. The expeditions had two objectives: to ex–

    plore the glacial anticyclones in the upper air by means of pilot balloons and

    ballo o ns sondes , and to see how a continental glacier during its liquidation modi–

    fies the land surrounding it. Since as early as 1911, when he published Character–

    istics of Existing Glaciers , Hobbs had written much to show how the glaciers of

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    EA-Biography. Carlson: Willaim Herbert Hobbs

    Greenland and the Antarctic differ from the Alpine glaciers, especially because

    of the wind system — the fixed glacial anticyclone — which always was above

    them. In The Glacial Anticyclones he indicated that the circumpolar area is

    apparently a vast area of normal or average atmospheric pressure, much the larg–

    est area of its kind on the planet, and that the Northern Wind Pole is the glacial

    anticyclone over Greenland which is centered 15 latitude degrees from the geo–

    graphic pole.

            In interpreting the former continental glaciers, there were deposits of

    these glaciers — the so-called loess — for which no explanation could be found,

    since these clearly had been deposited by winds, and had up to that time been seen

    forming only around deserts. Hence, so far as any attempt had been made to account

    for them, desert conditions between successive glaciations had been conjured up.

            The fierce outward-blowing winds of the continental glaciers, [?]

    [?] but absent from Alpine ones, suggested to Hobbs that

    they might have played a role in the deposition of loess. Finding this to be true,

    he accounted for the first time for the loess deposits which formed the rich wheat

    fields of the Upper Mississippi Valley and the Ukraine. He attributed this to

    seasonal alternations. During the summer, rains descend on the marginal zones of

    the Greenland glacier, causing it to waste downward (not backward from the front

    like an Alpine glacier), so that the glacier's intramarginal surface is covered

    with lakes and rivers discharging as outwash off its border large amounts of water

    charged with rock debris. This debris, varying from the finest silt to great

    boulders buoyed up by detached blocks of the glacier front, builds up an outwash

    plain over all low areas of land off the ice margin. At the end of the summer

    season, the rains and surface melting cease; the outwash quickly dries off at the

    surface, and the winds of the glacial anticyclone lift and carry out with them silt,

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    EA-Biography. Carlson: William Herbert Hobbs

    sand, and even small pebbles. The coarser sand carried by this blast drills

    the boulders stranded on the outwash so as to leave all harder parts in relief

    (the so-called ventifacts ). The fine silt, carried farther, does not come to

    rest until it has encountered the vegetation (tundra) bordering the outwash.

    This silt deposit is the loess that later makes the fertile wheat fields. Its

    greatest thickness is just outside the border of the outwash, and it thins out

    beyond. This zone may have a breadth of hundreds of miles.

            This discovery indicated to Hobbs that a re-interpretation was needed of

    the deposits of the North American glaciers of the Ice Age. The loess deposits,

    instead of indicating deserts during interglacial periods, were formed contempor–

    aneously during the liquidation of each of the glaciations. Knowledge of how a

    continental glacier, during its liquidation, modifies the surrounding land —

    the second of the expedition's main aims — was vital to this interpretation of

    ancient glacial deposits.

            The first University of Michigan Greenland expedition, which left North

    Sydney, N. S. on the Morrissey, June 28, 1926, was mainly a preliminary one, with

    the object of finding a suitable base and learning how to outfit later expeditions.

    Hobbs chose a ribbon of land more than 100 miles wide bordering the Arctic Circle

    on the southwest coast of Greenland. The base was within a rock-walled amphi–

    theatre (University Bay) on Maligiakfjord, a northern branch of Ikertokfjord, and

    about 40 miles east of the coast colony of Holsteinsborg. This was about 25 miles

    north of the Arctic Circle, and in Longitude 52° 20′ W. The expedition remained

    at this base until September 7th, after sending up 94 pilot balloons and making

    several registering balloon ascents carrying meteorological equipment. The per–

    sonnel of the first expedition was: Dr. Hobbs, director; Dr. Larry M. Gould, geo–

    logist, photographer; S.P. Fergusson, aerologist; Dr. J. E. Church, Jr., meteor–

    ologist; Ralph L. Belknap, surveyor; Paul C. Oscanyan, Jr., radio operator.

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    EA-Biography. Carlson: William Herbert Hobbs

            Following this preliminary expedition, the first of the main expeditions

    was set for 1927. Its members were Hobbs, Balknap, Church, Oscanyan; Clarence

    R. Kallquist, aerologist; Fred Herz, mechanic and photographer; Carl O. Erlanson,

    botanist. Helge Bangsted, Danish explorer, joined the party late in the summer

    to lead a winter ice-cap expedition.

            Hobbs planned to set up on a hilltop an aerological observatory for contin–

    uous study of the glacial anticyclones throughout two years. The winds of the

    upper air were to be investigated by use of daily pilot balloons, and occasional

    instrumental studies of the meteorological units with use of ballons sondes and

    captive kites. For this purpose, the base of the 1926 expedition was unsuited

    because located within an amphitheatre, and it was too far out from the border

    of the inaldn ice. The expedition sailed May 27th from Copenhagen on the Danish

    M.S. Disko . From Holsteinsborg, the schooner Walrossen took the expedition of

    seven members to the head of Söndre Strömfjord , where a landing place was found

    (named Cape Lloyd). The aerologist, Kallquist, established an aerological observa–

    tory 3 miles distant, on a hilltop 1,300 feet high (named Mount Evans). Despite

    sailing delays which had shortened the summer's schedule, Kallquist began his

    daily balloon runs on July 21st, and in the next two years 776 pilot balloons

    were followed in their flight to an average altitude of about 4 miles, with ex–

    ceptional runs to 16 miles and more. Some members of the expedition sailed on

    the Walrossen on September 12th, leaving behond Kallquist, Church, Oscanyan, and

    Bangsted. An ice-cap journey was carried out between January 15, 1928, and early

    March, on the inland ice east of Camp Lloyd. In a tent banked with snow, Bangsted,

    Church, and an Eskimo, Marius, lived six weeks, sustaining an 85-mile wind, in–

    variably down the ice slope from the southeast. Church, by specially devised plans,

    showed that even in that season there was an amount of evaporation from the ice


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    EA-Biography. Carlson: William Herbert Hobbs

            Before the third expedition in the summer of 1928, William S. Carlson,

    the assistant aerologist, went in to Mount Evans, while Kallquist, Church,

    Bangsted, and Oscanyan came out. The expedition's purposes were: to take in

    supplies for the station for another year, to erect additional buildings at

    Camp Lloyd and Mount Evans, where a storehouse and kite house were needed, and

    to carry out additional glacial studies. The new personnel for the station in–

    cluded Leonard R. Schneider, aerologist; David Potter, photographer, and Francis

    M. Baer, radio operator; the summer party included Belknap, as assistant director

    and surveyor; Duncan Stewart, Jr., his assistant; and Bangsted. Hobbs also took

    on this expedition Elmer G. Etes, an aviator and mechanic, to assist as carpenter

    and handyman, and also to locate a landing field for an aviator, Bert R. Hassell,

    of Rockford, Illinois, who was planning a trans-Atlantic flight via Greenland.

            For some time, Hobbs had been urging the superiority of the Greenland air–

    plane route to Europe over the long and dangerous one-hop flight across the Atlan–

    tic. This recommended route, which he advocated in several articles, had no hop

    longer than 1,000 miles, and the longest continuous one over the sea was 800 miles.

    The route he proposed was virtually the northern route used by American planes in

    World War II. This interest was reflected later by Hobbs in the early stages of

    World War II. Active in the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, and

    in similar groups, Hobbs counseled in 1940-41 with the State, War, and Navy Depart–

    ments on the establishment of naval and air bases in Greenland. The principal

    United States base was established, as he recommended, on the site of the landing

    field he had set up in 1928. (His 1940 paper, "Greenland as an American Bulwark,"

    before the Association of American Geographers, showed how air and naval bases

    could be established there. In 1943, he visited his former Greenland base, con–

    verted into a U.S. airport, after trans-Atlantic plane crossings using the field

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    EA-Biography. Carlson: William Herbert Hobbs

    had been inaugurated.)

            Despite Hobbs' hope of reaching Camp Lloyd early the summer of 1928 with

    supplies for Carlson, who was short of provisions, various sailing delays (from

    Copenhagen via the Disko ) postponed the expedition's arrival at Holsteinsborg

    until late June. A motor sloop, the Nakuak , was pressed into service to make

    the trip to Camp Lloyd, which was reached July 9th. A landing field was found

    on a clay plain 6 miles up the fjord from Camp Lloyd (later to be known as Bluei

    West Eight) and marked off with a runway for Hassell and his flying companion,

    Parker D. Cramer. In mid-August the flyers took off for Greenland; they crashed

    on the inland ice, and were found by members of the Hobbs expedition on September

    2nd. Two days later the summer party and the rescued flyers left on the Nakuak ,

    surviving a wreck of that craft in the fjord on the way out. The aerological work

    at the Mount Evans station was continued throughout the winter of 1928-29 by the

    station staff consisting of Schneider, Carlson, and a radio operator. Carlson

    made an unsuccessful mid-winter dog-sledge journey on the inland ice seeking to

    discover the abandoned airplane. In the summer of 1929, with a two-year series of

    observations completed, the station was closed. The staff returned via Copenhagen,

    leaving most of its equipment locked in the buildings; this equipment later was

    made available to other Greenland expeditions.

            Hobbs also directed, in absentia, a fourth University of Michigan Greenland

    expedition, in 1931-32, with stations set up near Upernivik in North Greenland

    (Latitude 72-1/2° N.), and in extreme South Greenland (at Ivigtut near Latitude

    61° N.). The northern station was in charge of Carlson, assisted by Max Demorest.

    Evans R. Schmeling directed the southern station. The stations were closed in 1932

    after a year's occupation.

            In 1932, Hobbs was honorary director (advisory) of a joint University of

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    EA-Biography. Carlson: William Herbert Hobbs

    Michigan-Pan American Airways expedition to Greenland, which Ralph L. Belknap

    directed. Balknap's main base, Peary Lodge, was established at Upper Nugsuak

    Peninsula on the west coast in Latitude 74° 19′ N., with a summer camp (Camp

    Watkins) on the inland ice in Latitude 75° N., altitude 8,840 feet, and occupied

    for seven weeks by Belknap alone.

            The Greenland expeditions' reports were published by the University of Mich–

    igan, as part of the Scientific Series. A narrative history of the expeditions

    also was written by Hobbs under the title Exploring About the North Pole of the

    published in 1930 by Putnam's.

            Hobbs' arctic work received the commendation, among many others, of Admiral

    Richard E. Byrd, who was one of nearly a score of explorers who honored him by

    naming glaciers, mountains, etc., for him. Byrd named over 100 miles of the

    Antarctic coast the "Hobbs Coast" (1941). Other points which now bear his name

    are: Hobbs Glacier of South Victoria Land, Antarctica, named by the second Scott

    expedition, 1913; Hobbs Glacier of East Greenland, Expedition named by A. DeQuervain,

    commanding Swiss Greenland Expedition, 1912-13; Hobbs Glacier, at head of Dart

    River in New Zealand Alps, named by Captain Bernard Head, of the British Army,

    1914; Hobbs range of mountains in southwest Ellesmere Land, named by W. Elmer

    Ekblaw, of the MacMillan Arctic Expedition, 1916; Mount Hobbs (12,310 feet) in

    the La Sal Mountains of Utah, by Larry M. Gould, in 1926; Hobbs Glacier in Peary

    Land, North Greenland, by Lauge Koch, leader of the Danish Greenland Expedition,

    1928; Hobbs Nunatak, in Greenland, by William S. Carlson, University of Michigan

    Greenland Expedition, 1930; Cape Hobbs, in MacRobertson Land, Antarctica, by Sir

    Douglas Mawson, 1932; Cape Hobbs Land in East Greenland, by Lauge Koch, director

    of the Danish Three-Year Expedition, 1933.

            In retirement, Hobbs he conducted an investigation concerning etched boulders of

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    EA-Biography. Carlson: William Herbert Hobbs

    glacial origin in the Pleistocene area of glaciation in America, reported in

    the Journal of Geology , Vol. 43.

            In 1935, Hobbs wwas elected president of the Association of American

    Geographers, and the next year made his presidential address on "Discovery and

    Exploration within the Arctic Region," as well as presenting a paper on "An

    Optical Phenomenon and Its Relation to the Discovery of Polar Lands." In this

    paper and others published by him, it was his contention that the arctic (super–

    ior) mirage had caused numerous errors of early arctic and antarctic explorers,

    since mirages of this type bring up real images of objects sometimes far below

    the horizon, and making it possible to see objects hundreds of miles distant

    which give the impression their distance is much less. Due to such deceptive

    appearances, Hobbs learned from his studies, explorers have discovered land,

    estimated its distance, and entered it upon their maps, only to be discredited

    by later explorers, who under more favorable ice conditions advanced farther.

            The year 1936 marked publication of his Peary , and a $50,000 suit by Dr.

    Cook against its publishers. In that year Hobbs made the dedicatory address

    at Cresson, Pa., for a Peary statue in the explorer's birthplace. Investigation

    in European libraries of the early Antarctic explorations occupied him early in

    1938, and later he presented a paper to the American Philosophical Society on

    Captain N. B. Palmer, discoverer of the Antarctic. He informed the Association

    of American Geographers that the supposed far southern cruise of James Weddell

    in the frozen pack ice could not have been made.

            In 1940, Hobbs spoke on "The Discovery of Wilkes Land, Antarctica," at the

    centenary celebration of the Wilkes Antarctic Exploring Expedition, which ob–

    servance he arranged. He presented a paper on "American Antarctic Discoveries,

    1819-1940" before the Eighth American Science Congress.

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    EA-Biography. Carlson: William Herbert Hobbs

            Appointed a consultant in the Far East Section, Office of Coordinator of

    Information in 1942, he supplied 250 vital photographs (taken in 1921 in the

    Japanese mandated islands) for U.S. warships and planes in the Pacific area.

            Among the professional and scientific organizations to which Hobbs has been

    elected to membership or to office are the following: Fellow, Geological Society

    of America (1892); Phi Beta Kappa (1902); Seismological Committee of the American

    Association for the Advancement of Science (1907); Wisconsin Academy of Science

    (life member, 1892); Fellow, American Philosophical Society (1909); vice-presi–

    dent, (1917), president (1935), Association of American Geographers; member,

    Washington Academy of Sciences (1914); vice-president for geology and mineralogy,

    Michigan Academy of Science (1907); president, Michigan Academy of Sciences, Arts

    and Letters (1916); honorary member, Veterans of Foreign Wars (1920); Fellow,

    American Meteorological Society (1929); first vice-president, Geological Society

    of America, (1922); Chevalier of the Legion of Honor (France) (1924); Council of

    American Philosophical Society (1929-32); Honorary Degree, Doctor of Engineering,

    Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1929); member, Explorers Club, New York (1930);

    vice-president, International Glacier Commission (1930-34); vice-president, Amer–

    ican Association for the Advancement of Science (1933); Fellow, American Geographic

    Society (1933); honorary member, State-Russian Geographical Society in Leningrad

    (1934); Fellow, Geographic Spciety of Chicago (1937); Honorary Degree, Doctor of

    Laws, University of Michigan (1939); emeritus life membership, American Association

    for the Advancement of Science (1939).

            Although an active member of several expeditions to Greenland, Hobbs' principal

    contribution to our understanding of the Arctic has been through his studies of

    the glacial anticyclone. During World War II, in particular, the significance of

    his researches assumed great importance.

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    EA-Biography. Carlson: William Herbert Hobbs

            Hobbs' dozens of publications include these major ones:

            Autobiographic Chronology of William Herbert Hobbs

            Earthquakes, an Introduction to Seismic Geology . Appleton, 1907.

            Characteristics of Existing Glaciers . Macmillan, 1911.

            Earth Features and Their Meaning . Macmillan, 1912. 2nd ed., 1931.

            Leonard Wood, Soldier, Administrator, Citizen . Putnam's, 1920.

            The World War and its Consequences . Putnam's, 1919.

            Cruises Along By-ways of the Pacific . Stratford Press, 1923.

            Exploring About the North Pole of the Winds . Putnam's, 1930.

            The Glacial Anti-cyclones . University of Michigan, 1926.

            Peary . Macmillan, 1936.

            Monograph on Antarctic Discoveries. 1938.

            Reports on University of Michigan Greenland Expeditions. 1931 & 1941.

            Explorers of the Antarctic . House of Field, 1941.


    William S. Carlson

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