Charles F. Richter

From Ohio History Central

Charles Francis Richter was born on April 26, 1900, near Hamilton, Ohio. He graduated from the University of Southern California and then enrolled in graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, where he studied theoretical physics. Richter received his doctorate in 1928. During this same year, the Seismological Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution in Washington hired him.

In 1935, while at the Seismological Laboratory, Richter worked with Beno Gutenberg to develop a rating scale for earthquakes. The scale has become known as the Richter Scale. The scale had the following classifications for earthquakes and their severity:

  1. Felt by instruments only
  2. Felt by sensitive people and sensitive animals
  3. Felt by many people
  4. Felt by everyone; pictures fall off of walls
  5. Damage
  6. Destructive earthquake in populated areas
  7. Major earthquake causing serious destruction
  8. Total destruction of nearby communities
  9. An earthquake more than one 100 million times more powerful than category one

For decades, the Richter Scale proved to be the accepted measurement for earthquakes. In recent years, scientists have begun to use the Moment Magnitude Scale, which is much more precise than the Richter Scale.

In 1936, Richter returned to the California Institute of Technology as a professor. He remained in academia for the remainder of his professional career. He also was an avowed nudist. This practice led his wife to divorce Richter. Richter died on September 30, 1985.

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