Charles Richter and the Richter Scale

Five things you didn't know about the world's most famous seismologist and his method for quantifying and comparing earthquakes.

John Dvorak's book "Earthquake Storms" (Pegasus Books) has a fascinating chapter on Charles Richter, the worlds most famous seismologist. Following are five things you probably didn't know about Richter and his magnitude scale:

1. He was born Charles Kinsinger and did not take the name Richter (his mother's maiden name) until he was 26 years old.

2. He was a nudist — a member of the Fraternity Elysia, one of the first nudist camps in the United States.

3. Richter announced his earthquake scale in 1935, but it remained virtually unknown to the public until 1952, when a 7.5 magnitude quake occurred along the White Wolf fault south of Bakersfield, California.

4. There is no upper bound to an earthquake magnitude. A magnitude-10 earthquake is possible, but it does not happen because of the material the earth is made of and because of the planet's size. It is, as Richter often said, "a limitation of the earth, not in the scale," notes Dvorak in "Earthquake Storms."

5. Many of Charles Richter's possessions (including family home movies, diaries, and rare books) were lost in a fire caused by the Northridge earthquake of January 17, 1994, a fire that destroyed the home of his nephew, Bruce Walport, who inherited many of his uncle's possessions following Richter's death on September 30, 1985.