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Episodes 2006; 29(4): 279-286

Published online December 1, 2006


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

The Fifth International Geological Congress, Washington, 1891

Clifford M. Nelson*

US Geological Survey, 950 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0001, USA. E-mail: cnelson@usgs.gov

* Dr. Nelson has served as a geologist and historian with the USGS at Reston, Virginia, since 1976.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The 5th International Geological Congress (IGC), the initial meeting in North America, was the first of the three IGCs that have been held in the United States of America (USA). Of the 538 registrants alive when the 5th IGC convened in Washington, 251 persons, representing fifteen countries, actually attended the meeting. These participants included 173 people from the USA, of whom forty-two represented the US Geological Survey (USGS). Fourteen of the US State geological surveys sent representatives to Washington. Eight participants came from other countries in the Western Hemisphere — Canada (3), Chile (1), Mexico (3), and Peru (1). The sixty-six European geologists and naturalists at the 5th IGC represented Austro-Hungary (3), Belgium (3), Britain (12), France (7), Germany (23), Norway (1), Romania (3), Russia (8), Sweden (4), and Switzerland (2). The USGS and the Columbian College (now the George Washington University) acted as the principal hosts. The American Association for the Advancement of Science and then the Geological Society of America (GSA) met in the Capital immediately before the Congress convened (26 August–1 September 1891).
The 5th IGC's formal discussions treated the genetic classification of Pleistocene rocks, the chronological correlation of clastic rocks, and the international standardization of colors, symbols, and names used on geologic maps. The third of those topics continued key debates at the 1st through 4th IGCs. The GSA, the Korean Embassy, the Smithsonian Institution's US National Museum, the USGS, and one of the two Secretaries-General hosted evening receptions. Field excursions examined Paleozoic exposures in New York (18–25 August), Cretaceous–Pleistocene localities along the Potomac River south of Washington (30 August), and classic Precambrian-Pleistocene sequences and structures in the Great Plains, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountains, and Great Basin (2–26 September), with optional trips to the Grand Canyon (19–28 September) and Lake Superior (23 September–2 October). The single-volume report of the 5th IGC was published in Washington in 1893.