A Very Different Investigator

Daniel Moreau Barringer, a Philadelphia mining engineer, was a man of immense vigor and intelligence, a charismatic, impatient and hot-tempered individual who did not suffer fools gladly, and who enjoyed quoting his wife’s description of him as “half gentleman and half savage.”

Daniel Moreau Barringer
Daniel Moreau Barringer

After graduating from Princeton University in 1879 at the age of 19, he went on to become president of his class at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, from which he graduated in 1882, receiving his A.M. from Princeton in the same year.

But the practice of law bored him. His real interests were in the outdoor life and in big-game hunting in the West, where Theodore Roosevelt and the author Owen Wister were his hunting companions. In search of an occupation that would allow him to pursue these interests, he turned to mining, and by 1902 had made himself a considerable fortune.

Barringer’s Leap

In a casual conversation with his friend Samuel J. Holsinger in 1902, Barringer became aware of the existence of the crater and the meteoritic iron around it. They were sitting on the porch of a Tucson hotel, having gotten bored with the musical performance inside.

As Holsinger later recalled the incident, Barringer “dropped his cigar”, and exclaimed, “That must be impossible! If true why have I not heard of this remarkable phenomenon before?”  Like Gilbert, Barringer reasoned that if the crater had been formed by such an impact, an enormous mass of meteoritic iron would still lie buried within it.

“I… knew as well as I know today that the crater… must be due to the impact of a body colliding with our earth.”

A few months later, Holsinger confirmed by letter that small balls of meteoritic iron were randomly mixed with the ejected rocks of the crater rim. This random mixture of rock and iron convinced Barringer that the crater had been created simultaneously with the arrival of the meteorites. If they had been deposited at different times, he reasoned, the rock and the iron would be found in separate layers. He “no longer doubted, but…knew as well as I know today that the crater…must be due to the impact of a body colliding with our earth.”  

Without ever having seen the crater, he enlisted his friend, Philadelphia mathematician and physicist Benjamin Chew Tilghman, in the formation of the Standard Iron Company, and began securing mining patents for the crater and the land around it.

Next: The Battle for Impact Theory >>