Wilson Morrow Laird was born on March 4, 1915, in Erie, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Charles W. and Elizabeth Laird. Wilson Laird graduated from Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geology in 1936. He obtained a Master of Arts degree from the University of North Carolina in 1938, and a Ph. D. from the University of Cincinnati in 1942. His doctoral dissertation was entitled “The Stratigraphy of the Upper Devonian and Lower Mississippian of Southwestern Pennsylvania.”
Laird joined the University of North Dakota as an Assistant Professor of Geology in 1940. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1942 and Professor in 1946. He became Head of the Geology Department in 1942. The department underwent tremendous growth during Laird’s tenure, expanding from a faculty of two to a doctorate granting department. Laird was a prodigious scholar who published on subjects as diverse as paleontology, stratigraphy, geomorphology, limnology, sedimentology, and mineral deposits. He also wrote about regional, glacial, groundwater and petroleum geology, and co-authored several geology laboratory manuals.
Laird was named North Dakota State Geologist in 1941. Under his guidance, the North Dakota Geological Survey received national acclaim for its organization and preservation of well files, logs, samples, and cores. Laird’s interest in conservation led to North Dakota’s enactment of oil conservation laws many years before oil was actually discovered in the state. When he took over administration of the Geological Survey, Laird was its only employee; in 1964, Leonard Hall was built to house both the Geological Survey and the Department of Geology. In 1989, the Survey had grown to such an extent that it was moved to Bismarck.
Laird took leave from UND in 1969 to accept a position as Director of the Office of Oil and Gas in the U.S. Department of the Interior. In 1971, he resigned from this post, in addition to formally retiring from UND. He became the first director of the Committee on Exploration of the American Petroleum Institute. He promoted offshore drilling along the east coast of the U.S., in addition to unexplored areas in the Gulf of Mexico. He retired from the position in 1979.
Laird was a fifty year fellow of the Geological Society of America, and received its Public Service Award in 1981. He served as Vice-President (1948) and President (1950) of the Association of American State Geologists, and President of the North Dakota Academy of Science in 1952. He served as President of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and was honored by this group in 1947 with the President’s Award for his research on Devonian stratigraphy in Montana. On the local level, he was active in the Boy Scouts of America, as well as the Masons, Elks, and the Presbyterian Church.
He received honorary doctor of science degrees from Muskingum College in 1964 and UND in 1984. The North Dakota Geological Survey's Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library, located on the UND campus, was dedicated in 1980. In 1992, Laird was awarded the first Arthur Gray Leonard medal, established by the UND Department of Geology and Geological Engineering to recognize outstanding alumni achievement.
He married Reba Allene Latimer on August 8, 1938, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The couple had four children: Douglas, David, Donald, and Dorothy. After Reba Laird died on July 21, 1989, he married Margaret L. Ray of Oklahoma City. She died on November 11, 1996. Wilson Laird died in Kerrville, Texas, on May 14, 1997. He is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Grand Forks.
“Memorial to Wilson M. Laird, 1915-1977.” Geological Society of America Memorials: vol. 29, December 1998
The Wilson Laird Papers have been divided into seven series as follows:
Series 1: Biographical Materials
Series 2: Publications
Series 3: Speeches
Series 4: Employment
Series 5: University of North Dakota
Series 6: Photographs
Series 7: Oversize Materials