Agassiz, Alexander, 1835-1910

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Biographical History

Alexander Agassiz(1835-1910), marine biologist, oceanographer, and industrial entrepreneur, was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, the son of Louis Agassiz. In 1860 Agassiz began a lifetime occupation of administering the business affairs of the Harvard museum, a task made difficult by his father's penchant for excessive collecting and expenditures. After Louis's death in 1873, Agassiz succeeded to the directorship of the Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology and completed the physical plan of the building. While a museum administrator, Agassiz was able to do significant research and publications in marine biology, especially in the study of Echinoderms (starfish, sand dollars, sea urchins, sea lilies, and related forms). The great energy Agassiz brought to all his endeavors was most evident in his oceanographic work. He pioneered in the 1870s and 1880s several highly useful technological improvements for dredging marine specimens. Sir John Murray, scientific director of the world-renowned British expedition of HMS Challenger, and a scientific confidant and biographer of Agassiz, affirmed in 1911 that all contemporary knowledge of "the great ocean basins and their general outlines" was due to Agassiz's work and his inspiration to others. In ships of the U.S. Coast Survey, and in private vessels he rented or bought, Agassiz traveled hundreds of thousands of miles over the oceans of the world in the period from the mid-1870s through the early 1900s, each trip planned with meticulous care. Agassiz corresponded extensively with colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution.

Related entities

Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology: Agassiz was the director of the Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

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  • Marine biologists
  • Oceanographers


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  • Marine biologists
  • Oceanographers