Walter B. Langbein was born in Newark, New Jersey, on October 17, 1907, and died at his home in Arlington, Virginia, on December 10, 1982. For 33 years he carried on a distinguished career in hydrologic research with the U.S. Geological Survey—very much in the public interest.
Langbein graduated from Cooper Union in 1931 with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. While attending classes in the evening, he worked for the Rosoff Construction Company, beginning as a rodman on a surveying team. At that time the company was engaged by the city of New York to enlarge the subway along 8th Avenue. Between 123rd Street and 124th Street, excavation was suspended a short time after it was begun because difficulties were encountered in lowering the groundwater levels with pumps. As the junior member of the engineering staff, Langbein was given the task of measuring and recording the distance of the water level below a reference mark—a task he later recalled as being his ‘introduction’ to hydrology.