ROBERT E. HORTON (18751945)

Horton pic

Robert E. Horton, often called the father of American hydrology, is remembered most as a scientist of great vision, curiosity, and originality. Born on 18 May 1875, in Parma, Michigan, he received a B.S. degree from nearby Albion College in 1897. Horton spent his professional life working as a hydraulic engineer for various government agencies and then as a private consultant in the northeastern United States.

Horton’s professional work covered several areas of hydrologic sciences and engineering, including hydraulics, geomorphology, soil physics, and even hydrometeorology. His approach to incorporating rigorous quantitative and mathematical approaches to hydrologic principles and processes helped lead the example of analytical hydrology and provided “connective tissue” between related research problems. Horton is best known for his work relating the infiltration capacity of soils to the generation of floods by surface runoff, incorporating the influence of soils and vegetation in runoff processes. He also ran a long series of investigations concerned with the process of drainage basin development as it relates to runoff generation. He developed a quantitative approach to erosional morphology and built the foundations for the study of the hierarchical organization of river networks in terms of stream order, drainage density, bifurcation ratio and stream length ratio. Over two decades, this research culminated in a 95-page landmark paper published just one month before his death in 1945.

Upon reviewing Horton’s accomplishments, one is struck by the gradual evolution of his ideas. Rarely does a novel idea emerge full-blown; instead, most of Horton’s ideas had precursors in discussions of his own earlier papers or the work of his colleagues. Because Horton was very active in several professional societies, many of his important contributions were made in just this way. Furthermore, the ultimate emergence of his seminal ideas was the result of two innate abilities: his continual thinking across disciplinary lines and his continual interplay between engineering practice and scientific curiosity.


Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences, National Research Council, 1991, p. 41. [LINK]

***Please send your suggestions, additions, and corrections to Efi Foufoula-Georgiou.*** 

List of Publications:

1. Rafter, G., and R. E. Horton (1896), A report for the New York State Engineer and Surveyor, p. 424.

2. Rafter, G. (1900), Computational works connected with hydraulic tests [involved contribution by R. E. Horton], T. Am. Soc. Civ. Eng., 64.

3. Horton, R. E. (1903), in Annual Report of the State Engineer and Surveyor of New York, Supplement, 16 pp.

4. Horton, R. E., N. C. Grover, and J. C. Hoyt (1905), Progress of Stream Measurements for the Calendar Year 1904, Part 2: Hudson, Passaic, Raritan and Delaware River Drainages, U.S. Geol. Surv. Water Supply Irrig. Pap. No. 125. [PDF]

5. Horton, R. E. (1906), Turbine water-wheel tests and power tables, U.S. Geol. Surv. Water Supply Irrig. Pap. No. 180. [PDF]

6. Horton, R. E. (1906), Weir experiments, coefficients and formulas, U.S. Geol. Surv. Water Supply Irrig. Pap. No. 150.

7. Veatch, A. C., C. S. Slichter, I. Bowman, W. O. Crosby, and R. E. Horton (1906), Underground water resources of Long Island, New York, U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap. No. 44, 394 pp. [PDF]

8. Horton, R. E., N. C. Grover, and J. C. Hoyt (1906), Progress of Stream Measurements for the Calendar Year 1905, Part 2: Hudson, Passaic, Raritan and Delaware River Drainages, U.S. Geol. Surv. Water Supply Irrig. Pap. No. 166. [PDF]

9. Horton, R. E., F. W. Hannah, and J. C. Hoyt (1906), Progress of Stream Measurements for the Calendar Year 1905, Part 6: Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Drainages, U.S. Geol. Surv. Water Supply Irrig. Pap. No. 170. [PDF]

10. Horton, R. E. (1907), Weir experiments, coefficients and formulas (Revision of paper No. 150), U.S. Geol. Surv. Water Supply Irrig. Pap. No. 200. [PDF]

11. Barrows, H. K., and R. E. Horton (1907), Determination of Stream Flow During the Frozen Season, U.S. Geol. Surv. Water Supply Irrig. Pap. No. 187. [PDF]

12. Horton, R. E. (1908), Deforestation, drainage, and tillage, with special reference to their effect on Michigan streams, The Michigan Engineer, 176-194.

13. Horton, R. E. (1911), Ebermayer’s experiments on forest meteorology, The Michigan Engineer, 66-89. [PDF]

14. Horton, R. E. (1913), Flood frequency and flood control, Eng. News Rec., 68, 505-506.

15. Horton, R. E. (1914), Discussion of Report of Committee on Yield of Drainage Areas, Journal New England Water Works Association, 28, 536-542.

16. Horton, R. E. (1914),  Evaporation from snow and errors of rain gage when used to catch snowfall, Mon. Weather Rev., 42, 99-100. [PDF]

17. Horton, R. E. (1915), Discussion of paper by A. F. Meyer on Computing Runoff from Rainfall and other Physical data, T. Am. Soc. Civ. Eng., 79, 1166-1173. [Originally published in 77, 369-375, 1914.]

18. Horton, R. E. (1915), The melting of snow, Mon. Weather Rev., 43, 599-605. [PDF]

19. Horton, R. E. (1916), Standing-wave experiment, Eng. News Rec., 75.

20. Horton, R. E. (1916), Some better Kutter’s formula coefficients, Eng. News Rec., 75, 373-374.

21. Horton, R. E. (1917), A new evaporation formula developed, Eng. News Rec., 78(4), 196-199. [PDF]

22. Horton, R. E. (1917), Failure of hydraulic projects from lack of water prevented by better hydrology, Eng. News Rec., 78(10), 490-492. [PDF]

23. Horton, R. E. (1917), Rational study of rainfall data makes possible better estimates of water yield, Eng. News Rec., 79, 211-213. [PDF]

24. Horton, R. E. (1917), Drainage-basin and crop studies aid water-supply estimates, Eng. News Rec., 79, 357-360. [PDF]

25. Horton, R. E. (1918), Determining the regulating effect of a storage reservoir, Eng. News Rec., 81, 455-458.

26. Horton, R. E. (1919), Rainfall interception, Mon. Weather Rev., 47(9), 603-623. [PDF]

27. Horton, R. E. (1921), Discussion of the probable variation in yearly precipitation, T. Am. Soc. Civ. Eng.

28. Horton, R. E. (1921), Correlation of maximum rain intensities for long and short time-intervals, Mon. Weather Rev., 49, 200-202. [PDF]

29. Horton, R. E. (1921), Results of evaporation observations, Mon. Weather Rev., 49, 553-566. [PDF]

30. Horton, R. E. (1923), Accuracy of areal rainfall estimates, Mon. Weather Rev., 51, 348-353. [PDF]

31. Horton, R. E. (1923), Transpiration by forest trees, Mon. Weather Rev., 51, 571-581. [PDF]

32. Horton, R. E. (1923), Group distribution and periodicity of annual rainfall amounts, Mon. Weather Rev., 51, 515-521. [PDF]

33. Horton, R. E. (1923), Rainfall interpolation, Mon. Weather Rev., 51(6), 291-304. [PDF]

34. Horton, R. E. (1924), Flood reduction by reservoirs, Submitted to Institute of Civil Engineers in 1924 and described in Abstract no. 4483, Session Notices, Institute of Civil Engineers, 1924-25.

35. Horton, R. E. (1924), Determination of the mean precipitation on a drainage basin, Journal New England Water Works Association, 38, 1-47.

36. Horton, R. E. (1926), Discussion of paper by C. S. Jarvis on flood flow characteristics, T. Am. Soc. Civ. Eng., 89, 1081-1086.

37. Horton, R. E. in collaboration with C. E. Grunsky (1927), Hydrology of the Great Lakes, Report of the Engineering Board of Review of the Sanitary District of Chicago on the Lake Lowering Controversy and a program of Remedial Measures, Part III, Appendix II, 432 pp.

38. Horton, R. E (1931), The field, scope, and the status of the science of hydrology, Eos Trans. AGU, 12, 189-202. [PDF]

39. Horton, R. E. (1932), Drainage-basin characteristics, Eos Trans. AGU, 13, 350-361. [PDF]

40. Horton, R. E. (1932), Discussion of the report of the committee on floods, Boston Society of Civil Engineers Journal, 19, 506-514.

41. Horton, R. E. (1933), The role of infiltration in the hydrologic cycle, Eos Trans. AGU, 14, 446-460. [PDF]

42. Horton, R. E. (1933), The relation of hydrology to the botanical sciences, Eos Trans. AGU, 14, 23-25. [PDF]

43. Horton, R. E. (1933), Separate roughness coefficients for channel bottom and sides, Eng. News Rec., 111, 652-653.

44. Leach, H. R., H. L. Cook, and R. E. Horton (1933), Storm-flow prediction, Eos Trans. AGU, 14, 435-446. [PDF]

45. Horton, R. E. (1934), Discharge coefficients for Tainter gates, Eng. News Rec.

46. Horton, R. E. (1934), Water-losses in high latitudes and at high elevations, Eos Trans. AGU, 15, 351-379. [PDF]

47. Horton, R. E., and J. S. Cole (1934), Compilation and summary of the evaporation record of Bureau of Plant Industries, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1921-1932, Mon. Weather Rev., 62(3), 77-89. [PDF]

48. Horton, R. E., H. R. Leach, and R. Van Vliet (1934), Laminar sheet-flow, Eos Trans. AGU, 15, 393-404. [PDF]

49. Horton, R. E. (1935), Surface Runoff Phenomena, Part 1. Analysis of the Hydrograph, Horton Hydrological Laboratory Publication 101, Edwards Bros. Inc., Ann Arbor, MI.

50. Baker, M. N., and R. E. Horton (1936), Historical development of ideas regarding the origin of springs and ground-water, Eos Trans. AGU, 17, 395-400. [PDF]

51. Horton, R. E. (1936), Maximum ground-water levels, Eos Trans. AGU, 17(2), 344-357. [PDF]

52. Horton, R. E. (1936), Natural stream channel-storage, Eos Trans. AGU, 17, 406-415. [PDF]

53. Horton, R. E. (1937), Hydrologic interrelations of water and soils, Proc. Soil Sci. Soc. Am., 1, 401-429. [LINK]

54. Horton, R. E. (1937), Hydrologic research, Science, 86(2241), 527-530. [LINK]

55. Horton, R. E. (1937), Determination of infiltration-capacity for large drainage-basins, Eos Trans. AGU, 18(2), 371-385. [PDF]

56. Horton, R. E. (1937), Natural stream channel-storage (Second paper), Eos Trans. AGU, 18, 440-456. [PDF]

57. Horton, R. E. (1937), Hydrologic aspects of streamflow stabilization, J. Forest., 35, 1015-1027.

58. Horton, R. E. (1937), Surface-runoff control, Headwaters Control and Use, Chapter II, Papers presented at the Upstream Engineering Conference held in Washington, D.C., September 22 and 23, 1936, pp. 16-41, discussion pp. 41-49, Published by Soil Conservation Service and Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture with the cooperation of Rural Electrification Administration.

59. Horton, R. E. (1938), Channel waves subject chiefly to momentum control, Contribution from Division of Research, Soil Conservation Service and Horton Hydrologic Laboratory, Voorheesville, NY, SCS-TP-16, 50 pp.

60. Horton, R. E. (1938), Analysis of simulated rainfall experiments, Contribution from Division of Research, Soil Conservation Service and Horton Hydrologic Laboratory, Voorheesville, NY, SCS-TP-18, 16 pp.

61. Horton, R. E. (1938), The interpretation and application of runoff plat experiments with reference to soil erosion problems, Proc. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. 3, 340-349. [LINK]

62. Horton, R. E. (1938), Rain wave-trains, Eos Trans. AGU19, 368-374. [PDF]

63. Horton, R. E. (1938), Seddon’s and Forchheimer’s formulas for crest-velocity of flood-waves subject to channel-friction control, Eos Trans. AGU, 19, 374-382. [PDF]

64. Horton, R. E. (1938), Definition and classification of flood waves, Bull. Perm. Internatl. Assoc. Navigation Congress, No. 25.

65. Horton, R. E. (1938), Phenomena of the contact zone between the ground surface and a layer of melting snow, International Association of Scientific Hydrology, Publ. 23, 545-561. [LINK]

66. Horton, R. E. (1939), Analysis of runoff-plat experiments with varying infiltration-capacity, Eos Trans. AGU, 20, 693-711. [PDF]

67. Beutner, E. L., R. R. Gaebe, and R. E. Horton (1940), Sprinkled-plat runoff- and infiltration-experiments on Arizona desert-soils, Eos Trans. AGU, 21, 550-558. [PDF]

68. Horton, R. E. (1940), An approach toward a physical interpretation of infiltration-capacity, Proc. Soil Sci. Soc. Am., 5, 399-417. [LINK]

69. Horton, R. E. (1940), Suggestion for a comprehensive research program on runoff phenomena, Deficiencies in Hydrologic Research, pp. 62-74, National Research Planning Board, Washington, D.C.

70. Horton, R. E. (1940), Hydrophysical approach to quantitative morphology of drainage basins, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Abstract, Section E, Philadelphia.

71. Horton, R. E., and R. Van Vliet (1940), Determination of areal average infiltration-capacity from rainfall and runoff data, USDA, SCS.

72. Horton, R. E. (1941), Sheet erosion – present and past, Eos Trans. AGU, 22, 299-305.

73. Horton, R. E. (1941), Virtual channel-inflow graphs, Eos Trans. AGU, 22(3), 811-820. [PDF]

74. Horton, R. E. (1941), Flood-crest reduction by channel-storage, Eos Trans. AGU, 22(3), 820-835. [PDF]

75. Horton, R. E. (1942), Remarks on hydrologic terminology, Eos Trans. AGU, 23(2), 479-482. [PDF]

76. Horton, R. E. (1942), An experiment on flow through a capillary tube, Eos Trans. AGU, 23, 534-538. [PDF]

77. Horton, R. E. (1942), Simplified method of determining an infiltration-capacity curve from an infiltrometer-experiment, Eos Trans. AGU, 23(2), 570-575. [PDF]

78. Horton, R. E. (1942), A simplified method of determining the constants in the infiltration-capacity equation, Eos Trans. AGU, 23(2), 575-577. [PDF]

79. Horton, R. E. (1943), A discussion of the relation of soil conservation to air and ground-water pollution, B. Am. Meteorol. Soc.

80. Horton, R. E. (1943), Evaporation-maps of the United States, Eos Trans. AGU, 24, 743-753. [PDF]

81. Horton, R. E. (1943), Hydrologic interrelations between lands and oceans, Eos Trans. AGU, 24, 753-764. [PDF]

82. Horton, R. E. (1945), Infiltration and runoff during the snow-melting season, with forest-cover, Eos Trans. AGU, 26(1), 59-68. [PDF]

83. Horton, R. E. (1945), Erosional development of streams and their drainage basins; Hydrophysical approach to quantitative geomorphology, Bull. Geol. Soc. Am., 56, 275-370. [LINK]

84. Horton, R. E. (1948), Statistical distribution of drop sizes and the occurrence of dominant drop sizes in rain, Eos Trans. AGU, 29(5), 624-630. [Posthumous publication, arranged by Richard Van Vliet] [PDF]

85. Horton, R. E. (1948), The Physics of thunderstorms, Eos Trans. AGU, 29(6), 810-844. [Posthumous publication, arranged by Richard Van Vliet] [PDF]

86. Horton, R. E. (1949), Convectional vortex rings – hail, Eos Trans. AGU, 30(1), 29-45. [Posthumous publication, arranged by Richard Van Vliet] [PDF]