Dr. Allen Van Heyl, Jr., was a consummate economic geologist, who served with the U.S. Geological Survey for nearly 50 years, beginning in 1943. He studied more of the nation’s mineral deposits than most could begin to imagine. He developed a deep and detailed knowledge of the nation’s geology and mineral wealth and left a body of written work that will serve science for decades to come—a remarkable legacy of 227 books and papers that he authored or co-authored.
Allen Heyl majored in geology as an undergraduate at Pennsylvania State University and earned his doctorate in geology from Princeton University in 1943. Vision problems made him ineligible for military service in World War II, so he accepted a position with the U.S. Geological Survey, where he could serve in the nation’s vital mineral exploration program. His first assignment (along with colleague Allen Agnew) involved the resuscitation of the moribund Upper Mississippi Valley lead-zinc district of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. The team located the 5-million-ton Bautsch deposit near Galena, Illinois and other resources, resulting in the recovery of mineral wealth valued at over $1 billion between 1943 and 1978. This work also resulted in 24 major reports on Upper Mississippi-type deposits authored or co-authored by Heyl and included additional exploration in southeast Missouri; the Tri-state District of southwest Missouri, northeast Oklahoma, and southeast Kansas; Arkansas; central Tennessee; and the Illinois-Kentucky fluorspar district.
The 1950’s brought Allen Heyl new assignments coinciding with a surge in national interest in nuclear power. Fieldwork in 1954 took him to the Bitter Creek carnitine deposits of Montrose County, Colorado and, in 1956, he examined the radioactive rare earth minerals in the Scrub Oaks mine in New Jersey and uraninite occurrences near Peekskill, New York.
Also, beginning in 1954, Heyl’s expertise in the geology of lead and zinc deposits took him to Leadville, Colorado, where he investigated and interpreted the oxidized zones of former sulfide-enriched orebodies. In the 1960’s, he published a series of reports that helped extend the life of the Leadville district into the new millennium, when ASARCO finally closed the Black Cloud mine.
During the same period, Heyl undertook the first significant geological study of chromite and other mineralization of the serpentine belt of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Simultaneously, he co-authored a report, published by the Maryland Geological Survey in 1965, on the copper, zinc, lead, iron, cobalt, and barite deposits of that state.
Other assignments took him to mining camps in Hansonburg and Socorro, New Mexico, the Taylor District and Great Basin regions of Nevada, Utah’s Tintic District, the Eagle District of Colorado, California’s Mojave District, the Viburnum Trend in Missouri, and many more.
Dr. Allen Heyl’s career was both vocation and avocation. His job was never just another day at the office, and it can be truly said that his suitcase was rarely unpacked.