Biography and History

Karl S. (Saben) Twitchell (born in St. Albans, Vermont on June 7, 1885) was an American mining engineer and geologist who conducted extensive mineral surveys in the Middle East between 1927 and the 1950s. He attended Kingston School of Mines, Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and graduated with a BS in 1908 and an ME in 1909. Between 1908 and 1915, Twitchell worked as an assayer, surveyor, prospector, and engineer in California, Idaho, and Arizona for various British and American companies, including Delamar Ltd. While working in a copper mine in Arizona, Twitchell met Colonel Seeley W. Mudd, who offered Twitchell an opportunity to work on developing the Skouriotissa Gold Mine in Cyprus in 1915. This pivotal early project ultimately led to a variety of mining projects in Portugal, Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia), Iran, and British Guiana. Twitchell's most significant work, however, took place in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

As a gift to Imam Yahiz, businessman Charles R. Crane hired Twitchell to survey mine resources, develop transportation infrastructure, and conduct agricultural experiments in Yemen during the later 1920s and early 1930s. Based on his successes in Yemen, a similar arrangement for surveying water resources, later to include mineral and oil surveying, was negotiated in 1932 for King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. On behalf of Standard Oil Company of California, Twitchell negotiated the first ever oil concession with the Saudi Arabian government in May 1933. With negotiations successfully completed, Twitchell began developing Mahad Dhahab and other mines in Saudi Arabia on behalf of the newly formed Saudi Arabian Mining Syndicate, which later included and was managed by the American Smelting and Refining Company. Other professional projects during this time include exploration and development of Placer Diamond Mine in British Guiana, serving as Vice President and consultant for American Eastern Corporation, consulting in Iran as part of its "Seven Year Plan," and leading the Agricultural Mission to Saudi Arabia in 1943-1944.

As an American businessman with a strong connection to the Middle East, Twitchell was involved with several philanthropic and academic organizations which had an interest in the region, including American Middle East Relief, Council on Islamic Affairs, Committee for Security and Justice in the Middle East, and Princeton University's Department of Oriental Languages and Literature Graduate Advisory Council. Often such affiliations reflected Twitchell's interest in the region's social and political circumstances, particularly if events impacted American-Saudi Arabian business relations. Twitchell also served on the Boards of Directors for American Eastern and Rock of Ages Corporations.

As a result of his experience and interest in the Middle East, Twitchell wrote many articles and a book, Saudi Arabia, published by Princeton University Press in 1947. Dodd, Mead and Company published a second book, Keith Arnold in Mining, in 1955.

Source: From the finding aid for MC171

  • Karl S. Twitchell Papers. 1911-1967 (inclusive).

    Call Number: MC171

    Karl S. Twitchell was an American mining engineer who conducted extensive surveys in the Middle East, Europe, and South America between 1915 and the 1950s. His papers document the span of his career, particularly his interest in the Middle East, and include correspondence, journals, notes, reports, writings, topical files, photographs, and maps. Personal documents and correspondence with family and associates are also contained.

  • Karl S. Twitchell Papers. 1911-1967 (inclusive).

    Call Number: MC171

    Karl S. Twitchell was an American mining engineer who conducted extensive surveys in the Middle East, Europe, and South America between 1915 and the 1950s. His papers document the span of his career, particularly his interest in the Middle East, and include correspondence, journals, notes, reports, writings, topical files, photographs, and maps. Personal documents and correspondence with family and associates are also contained.