“To helpmeet and campmate, Isabel Jaggar,
Whose horse crushed her against a tree …
Whose gloves fell into a red hot crack and burned up …
Who slept in a lava tunnel …
Beside the immortal remains of a desiccated billy goat …
And loved it all.”
(Thomas Jaggar dedication of book in 1945, USGS)
“In 1906, already a much-published, respected, well-known geologist, writer and lecturer, he became head of MIT’s department of geology. Jaggar saw the need for full-time, on-site study of volcanoes.”
“He had long deplored that to date, especially in America, it was only after news of an eruption was received that geologists rushed from academic centers to study volcanism.”
“There was generally no trained observer there beforehand, and scientists from afar often arrived after the eruption was over. There was then only one volcano observatory in the world, that at Vesuvius established in 1847.” (USGS)
In February 1912, prisoners, sentenced to a term of hard labor, started digging a cellar on the north rim of Kilauea Crater. The prisoners dug through almost 6-feet of volcanic ash and pumice to a layer of thick pāhoehoe lava, a firm base for the concrete piers on which seismometers would be anchored.
This was the result of “a visit to the Volcano of Kilauea on October 7th, 1909 … by the very distinguished English vulcanologist Dr. Tempest Anderson of York, and the well-known professors in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, TA Jaggar, Jr, and RA Daly, the last two interested in the establishment of a permanent observatory at Kilauea”. (Brigham)
Jaggar had traveled to the Islands at his own expense. He left MIT, moved to Kilauea to start the observatory, and devoted the remainder of his life to a study of volcanoes. He also had a home in Keopuka, South Kona.
Jaggar was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1871, the son of an Episcopal Bishop. A childhood fascination with the natural world eventually translated into three geology degrees from Harvard (AB, AM and PhD (1897.)) He studied in Munich and Heidelberg, and then began teaching at Harvard, later at MIT.
His years as a graduate student and young professor were spent in the laboratory. He felt strongly that experimentation was the key to understanding earth science. Jaggar constructed water flumes bedded by sand and gravel in order to understand stream erosion and melted rocks in furnaces to study the behavior of magmas. (USGS)
Jaggar witnessed the deadly aftermath of volcanic and seismic activity during a decade-long exploration of volcanoes around the world.
The devastation he observed, particularly that caused by the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée on the Caribbean Island of Martinique, led Jaggar to his vision and life-long work to “protect life and property on the basis of sound scientific achievement” by establishing Earth observatories throughout the world. (USGS)
When he came to the Islands, he joined the efforts of George Lycurgus (operator of the Volcano House) and newspaperman Lorrin Andrews Thurston who were working to have the Mauna Loa and Kilauea Volcanoes area made into a National Park.
Jaggar had tried to lead several expeditions to the top of Mauna Loa in 1914 but was unsuccessful due to the elevation (13,678 feet) and the harsh conditions: rough lava, violent winds, noxious fumes, shifting weather, extreme temperatures and a lack of shelter, water and food. (Takara)
About this time, about 800 Buffalo Soldiers from the 25th Regiment had been assigned to garrison duty at Schofield Barracks. Given their experience in Parks on the continent, some of the soldiers were called upon to assist at the volcanoes on the Island of Hawaiʻi.
In September 1915, Jaggar, Thurston and a US Army representative conducted a survey to determine a route for a trail up Mauna Loa.
The following month, a local paper noted, “Soldiers Building Mountain Trail. Negro soldiers of the Twenty-fifth Infantry to the number of 150 are at work constructing a trail from near the Volcano House to the summit of Mauna Loa. It is estimated that three or four weeks will be devoted to this work. The soldiers are doing the work as a part of their vacation exercises.” (Maui News, October 29, 1915)
The Buffalo Soldiers built the 18-mile trail to the summit of Mauna Loa. They also built the ten-man Red Hill Cabin and a twelve-horse stable, so scientists could spend extended periods of time studying the volcano.
Although Jaggar had married Helen Kline in 1903 and the couple had two children, Helen did not accompany Jaggar to accept his post as director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in 1911, and a divorce followed (filed in 1914.)
In 1917, Jaggar married a coworker at the volcano observatory, Isabel P. Maydwell; she was his wife, assistant and companion for the rest of his life. (USGS)
On August 1, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the country’s 13th National Park into existence – Hawaiʻi National Park. At first, the park consisted of only the summits of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa on Hawaiʻi and Haleakalā on Maui.
Eventually, Kilauea Caldera was added to the park, followed by the forests of Mauna Loa, the Kaʻū Desert, the rain forest of Olaʻa and the Kalapana archaeological area of the Puna/Kaʻū Historic District.
The National Park Service, within the federal Department of Interior, was created on August 25, 1916 by Congress through the National Park Service Organic Act.
In 1916, Thurston, recognizing the long tradition of soldiers and sailors who had visited the area, proposed the establishment of a military camp at Kīlauea. Thurston promoted his idea and was able to raise enough funds through public subscription for the construction of buildings and other improvements. By the fall of 1916, the first group of soldiers arrived at Kīlauea Military Camp (KMC.) (NPS)
Later, in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built research offices, hiking trails and laid the foundations for much of the infrastructure and roads within the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes and other parks across the country.
On, July 1, 1961, Hawaiʻi National Park’s units were separated and re-designated as Haleakalā National Park and Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.
Throughout his career, Jaggar pursued his goal of mitigating the negative impacts of natural hazards on humans through the continuous study of volcanoes and earthquakes, both in Hawaiʻi and around the world.
He retired in 1940 and moved to Honolulu. After leaving, Jaggar continued his research at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa until his death on January 17, 1953, 41-years after beginning his work on Kilauea. (USGS)