sidebar menu icon


Richard Alexander Fullerton Penrose Jr.
Richard Alexander Fullerton Penrose Jr. Courtesy of Find-a-Grave. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

PENROSE, RICHARD ALEXANDER FULLERTON, JR. (1863–1931). Richard Penrose, Jr., geologist, was born on December 17, 1863, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Richard Alexander Fullerton and Sarah Hannah (Boies) Penrose of Rockland, Maryland. His father was a well-known surgeon associated with the Medical Department at the University of Pennsylvania, where he specialized in gynecology. Sarah Hannah Boies and he were married on September 28, 1858, and had seven sons. She remained devoted to the education of her sons until her untimely death in 1881. Her enthusiasm for education carried over into the young Penrose's life as he pursued his own interests in education. Penrose attended a school run by the Misses Hough, across the street from his Philadelphia residence. Later he moved to the supervision of Dr. Edward Robins at the Episcopal Academy and eventually was instructed by Dr. Chase at his school, also in Philadelphia. Penrose was prepared for college by William S. Roney and entered Harvard University when he was sixteen. There he studied chemistry, rowed on the rowing team, and graduated in 1884 summa cum laude. In the summer of 1885 he became the assistant to Professor N. S. Shaler, whose connection with the United States Geological Survey later proved helpful. In June 1886 Penrose received his A.M. and Ph.D for his work on researching the "Nature and Origin of Deposits of Phosphate of Lime."

As a result of his experience with phosphates in 1886 the Anglo-Canadian Phosphate Company offered him a position as superintendent of its phosphate mines, which he accepted. In 1888 the effort of Edwin T. Dumble, the state geologist of Texas, to organize a geological survey of the state brought Penrose to Texas as geologist in charge of the eastern section of Texas. This assignment proved a challenge to Penrose, who had little experience in conducting a survey, especially where none had been done before. He "'worked out' the general sequence of the Tertiary formations which overlie unconformably the Cretaceous of Texas" in an area from the Red River to the Rio Grande 200 miles or more inland from the Gulf of Mexico. He investigated the iron ores of East Texas. The result of this survey was the publication of his collected data in 1889, Geology of the Gulf Tertiary of Texas from the Red River to the Rio Grande.

Bust of Richard Penrose Jr. at the National mining Hall of fame and Museum
Bust of Richard Penrose Jr. at the National mining Hall of fame and Museum. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In 1890, after two years in Texas, Penrose went to work on the Geological Survey of Arkansas, where he reported on the geological relations of manganese and iron deposits. In order to study the gold, silver, and copper potential in the mines of the Southwest, he made yet another trip in 1892 to Arkansas and through New Mexico and Arizona. In Silver City he met a German banker named John Brockman, with whom he and his brother Spencer formed the Commonwealth Mining and Milling Company. The mine was located in the southeastern corner of Arizona on a ranch owned by the Pearce family. After the investors surveyed it, they purchased it for $250,000. In eighteen months they had a net profit of around a million dollars. In 1898 Penrose sold his shares to Count Pourtales. He was appointed assistant professor of economic geology at the University of Chicago in 1892 and was promoted to associate in 1893 and to full professor in 1895. However, with a dual appointment to the United States Geological Survey he left the University of Chicago in 1897 to pursue his investigation of the gold-mining district of Cripple Creek, Colorado. The results of his investigation were The Mining Geology of the Cripple Creek District, Colorado and The Geology and Mining Industry of the Cripple Creek District, Colorado. His most notable mining venture was the Utah Cooper Company, which brought about "the consolidation of the low-grade copper interests in the West."

Grave of Richard Alexander Fullerton Penrose Jr.
Grave of Richard Alexander Fullerton Penrose Jr.Courtesy of Find-a-Grave. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Penrose was also known for his travels. It is estimated he traveled to sixty countries, always with the intent "to study ore deposits." In the spring of 1901 he embarked on an extensive trip from England to China, through the Malay Peninsula, on to India and the Suez Canal, then to France. He visited South America in 1907. In 1912 he became particularly interested in investigating Burma and the possibilities of setting up mining operations there. He did explore much of the country, but his investment dreams never materialized. Penrose was active in the Geological Society of America (GSA), which he supported enthusiastically. He died on July 31, 1931, and was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His endowment to the GSA supported several programs, as well as the R. A. F. Penrose medal for outstanding geological contributions.  Similarly, the Society of Economic Geologist's most prestiguous award is the Penrose Gold Medal, which is awarded every three years for outstanding geological achievements. In 2006, Penrose was inducted into the United States National Mining Hall of Fame in Leadville, Colorado.


Helen R. Fairbanks and Charles P. Berkey, Life and Letters of R. A. F. Penrose, Jr. (New York: Geological Society of America, 1952). Joseph Stanley-Brown, "Memorial of R. A. F. Penrose, Jr.," Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 43 (March 1932).

Kris Ercums

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Kris Ercums, "Penrose, Richard Alexander Fullerton, Jr.," accessed November 18, 2017,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on September 27, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.