Creating a digital Robert Elmer Horton archive – a crowd funding initiative

At the H15 History of Hydrology Session at the IAHS meeting in Berlin in July 2023 a new initiative was announced to fund the creation of a complete archive of the works of Robert Elmer Horton (1875-1945) who was the pre-eminent hydrologist of the English speaking world in the first half of the 20th Century.   He was a founder member and first vice-President of the Hydrological Section of the AGU.   On his death his papers were organised by Walter Langbein into 94 boxes and placed in the US National Archives.   As far as we know, these have only been accessed three times:  about 20 years ago by Keith Beven (KB) who examined 10 of the boxes (see Beven JH, 2004, HP, 2004a,b); by Jim Smith of Princeton who accessed some more in preparing for his AMS Horton Lecture; and most recently by Solomon Vimal, currently at Cornell Tech.   

Solomon discovered the value of Horton’s work on Lake Evaporation as part of his PhD thesis.  He has recently been on a long road trip (funded personally and by the MIRA Foundation) to visit Horton’s home in Voorheesville, NY (where apparently there are are still some old instruments in the barn), the nearby Horton Falls (formerly the LaGrange falls, with an interesting history of a land dispute with the LaGrange family), his alma mater of Albion College (which holds still more of his papers) and to Parma, Michigan where he was born (and where there are still Hortons).  Solomon’s searches have increased the known Horton published works from the 80 works listed in the biographical paper on Horton by Francis Hall in 1987, to over 200 (including a book of short stories).  We are still hoping that we will discover a new photograph of Horton to add the one that is always reproduced from when he was President of the American Meteorological Society.

We feel it would be valuable to the hydrological community to now produce an online archive of Horton’s works so that they can be much more accessible to all (right now only 86 of his papers are digitized and available via the Influential Hydrologists project of the AGU Hydrology section, initiated by Efi Foufoula-Georgiou).  KB can personally vouch for the fact that what is in the few boxes he managed to look at is absolutely fascinating (including an unpublished Manual of Infiltration) and gives new insights into Horton’s character and ideas – which were much more sophisticated than the simple  “infiltration excess overland flow” concept for which he is now remembered.   Solomon has had 4 of the boxes of papers held there scanned so there are just another 90 boxes to go!  

20 years ago it was possible only to take photocopies of the most important papers. With more modern technology it would be possible to digitise all of the material – but this will require funding for staff time and hosting the archive.  Hence the idea of crowd funding the initiative.  If you feel this is a worthwhile project then please donate (any amount large or small) at the GoFundMe site  https://tinyurl.com/roberthorton 

Keith Beven (Lancaster University) with Efi Foufoula-Georgiou (UC Irvine), Vijay P. Singh (Texas A&M)


Beven, K J, 2004, Surface runoff at the Horton Hydrologic Laboratory (or not?), J. Hydrology, 293, 219-234.

Beven, K J, 2004, Robert Horton's perceptual model of infiltration, Hydrological Processes, 18, 3447-3460.

Beven, K J, 2004, Robert Horton and abrupt rises of groundwater, Hydrological Processes, 18, 3687-3696.

Back to NEWS

  back to top