Hans Ernst Thalmann was born January 3, 1899, in Bern, Switzerland. He attended the Literar Gymnasium in Bern and entered the University of Bern in 1917. Immediately after entering the University, he joined the first of the many scientific societies of which he was to become a member—the Naturforschende Gesellschaft Bern. In 1920 he joined the Schweizerische Geologische Gesellschaft, and in 1922 he became a charter member of the Schweizerische Palläontologische Gesellschaft and a member of the Schweizerische Naturforschende Gesellschaft. He maintained this extraordinary rate of joining scientific societies throughout most of his active career, and by 1962 he was a member of no less than thirty organizations. He began to publish in 1922, the year in which he received his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Bern.
Hans' interests were wide ranging, covering Jurassic ammonites and stratigraphy in the Alps, the Miocene of the Bernese molasse, and Pleistocene vertebrates. He was an avid mountaineer, and one of his early papers was on the geologic effects of lightning on mountain peaks. He was an equally avid reader and reviewer of the geological literature and during the period from 1921 to 1928 published more than 1,100 reviews in the Geologisches Zentralblatt. From 1922 to 1924 he was employed as a teaching assistant in geology and assistant anthropologist on the faculty of medicine at the University of Bern, as a Privat-Dozent at the Volks-Hochschule, and as Scientific Research Fellow for Paleontology at the museums of natural history in Bern and Basel.
Hans married Heidi Hurlimann on March 30, 1925. Later that year he joined the Royal Dutch Shell Company and was sent to eastern Mexico, where he worked in the Tampico region and Isthmus of Tehuantepec. It was in the Tampico region at this time that the field of micropaleontology became commercially important. The Upper Cretaceous and Lower Tertiary rocks of the area contain no larger fossils but an abundance of foraminifera. Joseph Cushman had been brought in as a consultant to determine whether foraminifera could be used for stratigraphic purposes and, after his favorable reports, many of the companies exploring in the area developed micropaleontological laboratories. Hans Thalmann was a field geologist in this area for six years, and it was during this time that he began to develop what was to become an encyclopedic knowledge of foraminifera. From 1926 through 1931 he published no papers, but starting in 1932 he began to publish ten or more papers a year on foraminifera. Among his earliest papers on micropaleontology are works concerning Miogypsina, Hantkenina, and Globotruncana. He was among the first to recognize the value of both larger foraminifera and planktonic foraminifera in stratigraphy. He also began publication of a series of bibliographic works on foraminifera, which was ultimately to become his annual bibliography and index of new genera, species, and varieties of foraminifera, published from 1936 through 1959.
The Thalmann's first child, Marianne, was born August 15, 1928, in Bern.
In 1931 and 1932 he was Chief Paleontologist with Royal Dutch Shell at The Hague, and during this period he had access to extensive library collections that were especially important in the development of complete bibliographies of foraminifera. Hans was very much a bibliophile, and his own private library of literature on foraminifera, built during this period, was probably the largest and most complete collection of its kind.
From 1932 to 1934 he worked in Indonesia (Sumatra and Java) for Royal Dutch Shell. There, he and his wife spent many evenings preparing a card catalog of the genera, species, and varieties of foraminifera, with references to all of the literature in which particular taxa were cited. Many of the illustrations were copied from the literature and attached to the cards for comparative purposes. It should be noted that Hans possessed, an essentially photographic memory, so that throughout his life he was able to cite page and figure number for a particular illustration from memory.
He left Shell in 1934 and traveled to Egypt and Switzerland, where he carried out some stratigraphic and micropaleontologic studies on his own and worked as a consultant. In 1935 he joined the Standard-Vacuum Oil Company and returned to Indonesia, with headquarters at Palembang. His publications on special problems of foraminiferal taxonomy and biostratigraphy continued regularly throughout this period. The Thalmanns' second daughter, Heidi Elisabeth, was born August 9, 1938, in Palembang.
In 1941 he was vacationing in the United States and preparing to return to Indonesia when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor came. He suddenly found himself unable to return to his home and library in Palembang, so he remained in the United States, traveling some 40,000 miles throughout the country. It was during this time that he met Brooks Ellis and Angelina Messina and assisted them with the plans for the Catalog of Foraminifera, published by the American Museum of Natural History. He also met Hugh Schenck at Stanford University and developed friendships that would draw him back to Stanford later.
However, his desire to return to field work soon resulted in transfer to the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey's subsidiary in Ecuador, the International Petroleum Company. He remained in Ecuador from 1942 through 1945, making occasional trips to Colombia and Peru. He subsequently published a number of papers on Cretaceous and Cenozoic biostratigraphy, using benthonic and planktonic foraminifera. He also recorded the presence of radiolarian deposits in southwestern Ecuador.
Hans returned to the main office of the Standard-Vacuum Oil Company in New York from 1945 to 1947 as Chief Paleontologist. While in New York, he took a very active interest in the development of the Ellis and Messina Catalog of Foraminifera, becoming chairman of the advisory committee to the Department of Micropaleontology of the American Museum of Natural History.
After a vacation in Switzerland in 1947, he joined the Venezuelan Atlantic Refining Company, residing in Caracas from 1947 to 1950. He joined the Rotary Club in Caracas, later transferring his membership to Palo Alto. His output of scientific contributions on foraminifera increased, covering a wide variety of topics ranging from regional and stratigraphic distribution of selected genera through biostratigraphy of planktonics to shell construction among the arenaceous foraminifera. The bulk of these publications appeared in the Eclogae Geologicae Helvetiae.
In 1951 Hans moved to California, and he served as a visiting professor at Stanford University until 1964. Under this arrangement, he spent his summers consulting with the Coronado Petroleum Corporation, Union Oil Company of California, Gulf Oil Corporation, Texas Company, California Exploration Company, Champlin Oil and Refining Company, United Fruit Company, Pan American Indonesia Oil Company, Parolees Mexicanos, and others. This work led him to Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Iraq, Iran, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
Hans was president of the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists in 1954. In 1955 and 1956 he was intimately involved with the International Geological Congress in Mexico, assisting in the organization of excursions to the Tampico-Poza Rica area. From 1959 to 1961 he was ICA Professor at the University of Chile in Santiago and traveled throughout Chile.
From 1963 to 1971 he was professor of geology at San Francisco State University, where he taught beginning courses in geology with the same wit and enthusiasm he had given to graduate courses at Stanford. After his retirement, Hans Thalmann continued to be active in teaching, and he found that teaching undergraduate students was an exciting and exhilarating experience. At the time of his death, he was preparing for the spring semester at San Francisco State University, where since 1971 he had been a professor emeritus.
During his career, he was a member of the following: Geological Society of America (Fellow); Geological Society of London; Société Géologique de France; Swiss Geological Society; Swiss Paleontological Society (charter member); Schweizerische Naturforschende Gesellschaft; Vereinigung Schweizerischer Petroleum-Geologen (charter member); Geological Mining Society of the Netherlands; American Association of Petroleum Geologists; Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists (charter member; president, 1954-1955; honorary member, 1957-1975); Paleontological Society (chairman, Pacific Coast section, 1956-1957); American Association for the Advancement of Science (Fellow); Sigma Xi; Society for the Study of Evolution (charter member); Paleontological Research Institute; Society of Systematic Zoology (charter member); Scientific Research Society of America (RESA); Palaeontological Society of India; Palaeontological Research Society of India; Royal Microscopical Society; Instituto Sudamericano del Petróleo; Asociación de Geología, Minorca y Petróleo, Caracas, Venezuela; Deutsche Geologisch; Gesellschaft; Deutsche Paläontologische Gesellschaft; Societa Geologica Italiana; Geologische Vereinigung; Asociación Mexicana de Geologos Petroleros; Palaeontological Society of Japan; Geological Society of Japan; Geologiska Foreningen i Stockholm, Sweden; Cushman Foundation for Foraminiferal Research (director; editor of Contributions, 1951-1956); Societa Paleontologica Italiana (charter member); American Geographical Society;. New York Academy of Science; American Geophysical Union; American Association of University Professors; Stanford Research Club; Hispanic American Society; Stanford Faculty Club; Rotary Club of Caracas, Venezuela, 1948-1950; Rotary Club of Pasadena, 1950-1952; and Rotary Club of Palo Alto.
Hans passed away on January 25, 1975, from a heart attack. He visited more places and accompli bed more than all but a few of his contemporaries. He lived life to the fullest. Hans was one of the founders and leaders of micropaleontology, and his colleagues and students will remember him with fond regard.