W. L. G. Joerg (1885-1952)

Herman R. Friis


On 7 January 1952 one of America's leading geographers, W.L G. Joerg, Chief Archivist of the Cartographic Records Branch of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., died suddenly of cerebral hemorrhage at the age of sixty-six. Wolfgang Louis Gottfried Joerg was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 6 February 1885. His father, a German-born physician, and his mother, born in Geneva, Switzerland, recognized the aptitude of their son, and gave him every encouragement. After graduating from Brooklyn Polytechnic Preparatory School at fourteen he searched in vain among American institutions for well-rounded courses in geography. His remarkable fluency in European languages and the classics, made possible his successful studies at Thomas Gymnasium and the University of Leipzig in Germany from 1901-4. Following a year at Columbia University, New York City, completing courses in geography and surveying, he spent five profitable, happy years at the University of Gottingen in Germany. Fired with enthusiasm about the new science, geography, he joined the American Geographical Society in 1911, as an assistant to Cyrus C. Adams, Editor of the Bulletin. ... In April 1937 Mr. Joerg was appointed Chief of the newly created Division of Maps and Charts of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., a responsibility for which he was unusually well qualified. The geography, cartography, and exploration of the polar regions had fascinated him, Mr. Joerg once mentioned, at a very early age. It was, he said "a sign of the times." His interest was spurred by the expeditions of Peary and others, and matured during his studies at Gottingen under Professor Ludwig Mecking. Although Mr. Joerg had never seen the arctic and antarctic regions, he became so well versed in the literature and in the knowledge of their geography that very many explorers and scientists working in these regions sought his advice. Perhaps Mr. Joerg's first publication on the Arctic was his "brief statement as to the origin and scope of the Map of the Arctic Regions. . ." which appeared in the Bulletin of the American Geographical Society (Vol. 45 (1913) p. 610), and he was responsible for the "final version, exclusive of the soundings." In the late 1920's, when the American Geographical Society embarked on its program of polar research and publication Mr. Joerg, as Research Editor in charge, was responsible for publishing the 'Problems of polar research' and its companion volume 'The geography of the polar regions'. The editorial perfection which he achieved in preparing these and other contributions by polar experts went far towards establishing his reputation in that field. From the date of these volumes to the time of his death, he seldom passed a year without producing or collaborating in a major article on the polar regions. Some of these contributions resulted from his appointment as chairman of the Special Committee on Antarctic Names of the United States Board on Geographic Names, 1944-7, and as a member of its successor, the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names. Mr. Joerg's affiliations with and recognition by scientific societies throughout the world have been numerous. In May 1944 he attended the meeting in New York City, at which plans were initiated for the founding of the Arctic Institute of North America, and in 1949 he was elected a Fellow of the Institute. As geographers and kindred scientists read more of his published works they will respect him as one of the fathers of American geography and a specialist whose contributions to the literature of geography of the polar regions, rank not only as scholarly treatises but will remain for a long time as basic documents on the subject.


Aerial surveys; Animal distribution; Arctic char; Bears; Biological sampling; Caribou; Coregoninae; Coregonus; Fishes; Grizzly bears; Identification; Lake trout; Mammals; Sculpins; Social surveys; Banks Island, N.W.T.; Nunavik, Québec

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14430/arctic3883