Otto Geist emigrated in 1910 from Germany, where he had been trained as a machinist. In America, he worked as a farmer, mechanic, soldier and trucker before heading to Alaska. While working on a Yukon River sternwheeler in 1924, Geist met naturalist Olaus Murie and his wife, Margaret, the second graduate of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. They convinced Geist to visit Charles Bunnell, the school’s president, and show him artifacts he had collected.
Bunnell encouraged Geist to do more collecting and, in 1927, backed the first of his many expeditions. Geist, often working long days with no compensation other than his expenses, returned with many tons of material during the decades that followed.
Geist also collected mammoth bones and tusks from mines around Fairbanks.
The university granted Geist an honorary doctorate for his work in 1957. Many artifacts he collected can still be seen at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. The museum building is named after him, as is Geist Road along the south boundary of the Fairbanks campus.
More online about Otto Geist:
- An obituary written in 1963 by Charles Keim, then dean of the UA College of Arts and Letters, and links to several other articles
- A description of Geist’s role in the University of Alaska Museum of the North
- William Irving’s review of Keim’s biography, “Aghvook, White Eskimo: Otto Geist and Alaskan Archaeology,” in the American Anthropologist journal, 1971