John Clarence Karcher

John Clarence Karcher
Death date
Associated organizations
Geophysical Research Corporation
Fields of study
Anthony F. Lucas Gold Medal


John Clarence Karcher, a geophysicist, was born in 1894. While studying physics, he thought it might be possible to determine the depth of underlying strata by recording and timing the returning waves of energy from vibrations on the Earth's surface. Eventually, he invented and commercialized the reflection seismograph, which would be used in the discovery of much of the world's oil reserves.

In 1919, he first applied for patents in reflection seismography. While he completed his doctorate, he joined two of his former professors in organizing Geological Engineering Company, the first company to commercialize the concept. On 4 June 1921, in the words engraved on a monument near Oklahoma City, they "proved the validity of the reflection seismograph as a useful tool in the search for oil."

When Everette DeGolyer heard of Karcher's experiments with the seismograph, he arranged a meeting in New York City that culminated in the organization of Geophysical Research Corporation as a subsidiary of Amerada, with Karcher as vice president. In December, 1928, Amerada drilled the first oil well in history to be drilled in a structure found by a reflection seismograph. Karcher successfully found and mapped salt domes along the US Gulf Coast, and his work led to the first offshore use of seismic. In 1933, Karcher and DeGolyer were the first to map the deep-seated Old Ocean dome in Texas, one of the largest discoveries of condensate ever made on the Gulf Coast. Karcher eventually left the company, with DeGolyer's blessing, to establish the world's first independent company to provide seismograph services, called Geophysical Service. In 1976, Karcher was awarded the Anthony F. Lucas Gold Medal. He died in 1978 at the age of 84.