Charles Richter

Physicist / Seismologist

Born: 26 April 1900
Died: 30 September 1985
Birthplace: Overpeck, Ohio
Best known as: The seismologist who created the earthquake scale

Name at birth: Charles Francis Kinsinger

Charles Richter was a physicist and seismologist who created a system of measuring earthquake magnitudes now known as the Richter Scale. Raised first in Ohio and then in southern California, Richter graduated with a degree in physics from Stanford University in 1920, and earned his doctorate from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1928. He worked at Caltech's Seismological Laboratory between 1927 and 1935, and collaborated with Beno Gutenberg on a scale that interpreted seismograph readings to measure the magnitude of earthquakes. The Richter Scale (a term he did not use himself) was publicized in 1935 and was specific to southern California, but was applied soon after to worldwide seismological events and became the scientific standard. Charles Richter was a professor of seismology at Caltech from 1937 to 1970, then spent the rest of his career as a consultant.

Extra credit:

Charles Richter was born Charles Francis Kinsinger, but adopted his mother’s maiden name, Richter, as a child. He changed it legally in 1926… Some sources list Hamilton, Ohio as the birthplace of Charles Richter; Hamilton is about four miles southwest of Overpeck… Richter was a nudist and a loyal fan of the original TV series Star Trek… Even though the popular press still talks in terms of the Richter Scale, seismologists now use what is known as the Moment Magnitude Scale (MMS).

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