Francis John Pettijohn was born June 20, 1904 in Waterford, Wisconsin. He received his bachelor's degree, masters degree, and Ph.D from the University of Minnesota in 1924, 1925, and 1930, respectively. He taught geology or earth sciences at the University of California, the University of Chicago, Oberlin College, and Macalester College before becoming a professor of geology at Johns Hopkins University in 1952. During his academic career, he also completed research assignments for the United States Geological Survey. His particular field of interest and research was sedimentary geology.
At the time of his death in May 1999, he was widely considered the founder of modern sedimentology.