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J. Harlan Johnson papers

Call Number: RH MS 735


This collection consists of J. Harlan Johnson's research material, including notes, reference material, publications, and photographs, relating primarily to various forms of algae. The material concerns his time as curator of the Colorado School of Mines' Geology Museum, teaching at the school, and research and consultation work outside academia.


  • Creation: 1865 - 1977


Conditions Governing Access

The materials associated with call number RH MS 753 are stored KU Annex off-site storage area.

All researchers interested in reviewing this material must consult Spencer Research Library Public Services staff (785-864-4334 or, 9-5 M-F CST) no less than three days in advance of a planned visit. Be advised that drop-in requests for this material cannot be accommodated.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of J. Harlan Johnson

Jesse Harlan Johnson was born March 21, 1892 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to William H. and Mary Harlan Johnson. He began studying at the South Dakota School of Mines, but his studies were interrupted by joining the Army Medical Corps in France during World War I, where he was wounded and suffered from a mustard gas attack.

While recuperating in France, Johnson earned a certificate in geology and language at the University of Montpellier. After the war he returned to the States and completed his studies at the South Dakota School of Mines, earning his bachelor's degree as Engineer of Mines in 1920.

Johnson went onto become an instructor in geology at the Colorado School of Mines, located in Golden, Colo. From that school he received his Master of Science degree in 1923, after which he became as associate professor of geology. He went on to complete his doctorate at the University of Colorado in 1936 and became a full professor of geology at the School of Mines in 1947. Before retiring in 1957 he also served as curator of the School's Geological Museum.

While Johnson's original research interests were wide--in part because the school where he taught in the 1920s did not expect its faculty to specialize--his early field studies into Paleozoic and Mesozoic sediments in Colorado began focusing his attention on soft rocks and paleontology. This eventually led to his specialization in fossil algae, particularly after a 1930 field study during which he could find no specialist to help him study and interpret the algal limestone deposits he was discovering.

While many of Johnson's field studies were conducted in Colorado, including the Mosquito and Sawatch Ranges and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, he also worked in the Pacific Reefs, including the Bikini Atoll, Saipan, Eniwetok, and Guam. He also served as consultant to the petroleum industry in the 1950s and after his retirement from academia into the 1960s, helping with the interpretation of sedimentary carbonate rocks.

Johnson continued researching after his retirement, and he and his wife Merle (Molly) Knights, whom he married in 1924, traveled around the world for visiting lectureships, research, and pleasure. Johnson also held several professional service positions, including as a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA), President of the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists in 1943, and vice president and president of the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists in 1929-1931. He was also a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), the Paleontological Society, and the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers.

J. Harlan Johnson passed away on October 31, 1974 at home in Crowley, Texas.


66.5 Linear Feet (83 boxes + 2 oversize boxes)

Language of Materials


Physical Location

RH MS 735

Physical Location

RH MS Q199

Physical Location

RH MS-P 735

Physical Location

Contact Spencer Library Public Services (Library Annex)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, Colorado School of Mines, 1993.

Separated Materials

Harlan J. Johnson Collection, Department of Palaeobiology, Smithsonian Institution.

Guide to the J. Harlan Johnson Collection
J. Harlan Johnson papers
Finding aid prepared by jtf, 2006; revised by mwh, 2016.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in<language encodinganalog="language">English.</language>
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
J. Harlan Johnson papers, RH MS 735, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States