Victor Gruschka Springer

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  • The material for this biographical article concerning Victor G. Springer, the Smithsonian Institution's noted ichthyologist, is from interviews the author and Inci Bowman conducted with Springer in 2003. The wide-ranging discussions produced an interesting portrait of Springer's life, covering his childhood, education, military experience and professional career.
  • Both of his parents were immigrants; born in 1928, Springer grew up in Jacksonville, FL, near a river that he explored as a child and led to the development of his interest in natural science. He entered Emory University in Atlanta as a pre-med student, but sought out other opportunities after realizing medicine was not for him.
  • During Springer's senior year in 1948, a bulletin board announcement about the marine biology program at the University of Miami caught his interest; he applied and after being accepted, got a research assistantship to pay his tuition and a stipend to cover living expenses. His first research project involved the effect of light on marine borers, and resulted in his first dive and subsequent scientific publication, as a third author.
  • Springer took his first course in ichthyology at Miami from Luis Rene Rivas, whom he considered a great professor. Graduate studies and various jobs were interrupted in 1950 when he was drafted into the Army for two years. Springer's blunt honesty occasionally created problematic situations for him, and he was sent to Korea as punishment; however, his time there allowed him to conduct his first scientific expedition. Unfamiliar with the local fishes, he sent some specimens to the Smithsonian Institution for identification; he received a response from ichthyologist Ernest A. Lachner, who also sent a seine to help with fish collecting efforts.
  • Springer left the Army in 1952, and after a short hiatus, continued his graduate work at the University of Miami. He cites marine biologist Gilbert L. Voss's course as being especially stimulating, and also states that work in Rivas's systematics class brought him to realize his special interest was in blennies species [family Blenniidae; referred to as blennioids].
  • He visited the Smithsonian Institution for the first time in 1953, met ichthyology curators Lachner and Leonard P. Schultz, and found all the specimens he needed for studies on two blennies species. As Miami had no doctoral program when he received his master's degree, Springer decided to attend the University of Texas and study for the degree under Clark Hubbs, who had worked on blennioids for his Stanford Ph.D. Vic became his graduate student and went on a collecting trip with him to West Texas and Mexico during his first summer there, and revised Malacoctenus and the Atlantic species of Labrisomus for his dissertation.
  • After his graduate work was completed in 1957, Springer taught a summer marine biology course while searching for a job at various universities. Unable to secure a suitable position in higher education, Vic got a job as an ichthyologist with the Florida State Board of Conservation (FSBC), now the Department of Natural Resources, in St. Petersburg. His job was to assess various habitats as nursery grounds for young fish to act on the Board of Conservation's concern that land developers were filling in bays and reclaiming estuarine habitat for real estate. Vic produced two notable studies during his tenure at FSBC, but a difficult a relationship with director Robert Hutton prompted Vic's departure. Springer's new job search took him to a Navy-supported contract position for shark studies at the Smithsonian in mid-1961, and enabled Vic to travel to Europe and Australia for research.
  • When the Navy contract was cancelled early, Vic was again looking for a job; the search resulted in his being hired in 1963 as an assistant curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Division of Fishes. This opportunity enabled him to resume research on blennies and served as the formal beginning of his long and distinguished career at the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Springer's early projects at the Smithsonian included studies on the osteology of blennies and the 1967 publication of a revision of a blenniid genus paper. While doing research for that project, he was intrigued by problems involving distribution of the species, or the biogeography of the blennioid groups, and wanted to plot the distribution of everything he could find. He thought that plate tectonics could be playing a role in species distribution and published a Pacific Plate biogeography paper in 1982.
  • Vic's extensive field work through the years greatly expanded the Smithsonian's collections, and he estimates that nearly 15% of the Institution's fishes collections were a result of his many trips to various parts of the world. His first collecting trip as a Smithsonian employee was in 1964, to Dominica in the West Indies; however, the remainder of his efforts were devoted to the Indo West Pacific. Springer went to Australia in 1966 with Frank Talbot, who later became director of the National Museum of Natural History; to Taiwan in 1968, and the Red Sea area in 1969.
  • During the 1970's he went to Indonesia, areas in the Indian Ocean, the Philippines, and islands near New Guinea; in the 1980's he traveled to the Caroline Islands and Fiji prior to his last expedition in 1986 to Rotuma Island. From research on blenniids collected on this last trip, Vic was able to conclude that Rotuma was part of the Samoan hotspot chain instead of the Fiji Plate.
  • Springer's active participation in research dives throughout his career ended after 28 years due to problems with his hearing, but Vic remained fully involved with planning and funding of field collecting expeditions for other field collectors such as Jeffrey T. Williams. Springer worked with patron Herbert R. Axelrod to set up a process to continue funding for some of the Fish Division's research, and instituted a program to generate proceeds from donated reprints of ichthyology reference works.
  • Vic has contributed many research works and papers to the science of ichthyology during his career, and from 1951 was active in the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH). One of his great contributions to that organization was to help establish the Gibbs Award, given annually in honor of his friend and colleague Robert H. Gibbs, Jr.
  • Toward the conclusion of the piece, Springer points out that he does not view ichthyology as a growing science, as there are fewer graduate students seeking even fewer meaningful jobs. After 43 years at the Smithsonian, however, he still works six days a week and published his most recent study in 2004. Springer then discusses personal interests, such as his hobby in philately begun in 1990, and his personal life with wife, Shirley, and their two daughters.


  • Williams, Jeffrey T
  • Springer, Victor Gruschka 1928-
  • Talbot, Frank
  • Schultz, Leonard P (Leonard Peter) 1901-
  • Rivas, Luis Rene
  • Voss, Gilbert L
  • Hubbs, Clark
  • Hutton, Robert F (Robert Franklin)
  • Axelrod, Herbert R
  • Gibbs, Robert H. Jr
  • Lachner, Ernest A
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
  • American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Division of Fishes


Smithsonian History Bibliography


Article appears in the journal's "Historical Perspectives" and includes four photographs and a "Literature Cited" section. It is a condensation of an oral history interview with Springer in July 2003 by the author and Inci Bowman; Springer updated and amended his remarks in October 2004.

Contained within

Copeia 2005 (2) (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


May 2005


  • Discovery and exploration
  • Scientific expeditions
  • Marine sciences
  • Malacoctenus
  • Biogeography
  • Employees
  • Ichthyology
  • Societies
  • Blenniidae
  • Marine Biology
  • Vertebrates
  • Labrisomidae
  • Blenniella
  • Fishes
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Personnel management
  • Learned institutions and societies
  • Oral histories
  • Plate tectonics
  • Oral biography
  • Biography
  • Marine biology
  • Smithsonian Institution--Employees
  • Oral history


  • Fiji
  • Indian Ocean
  • Philippines
  • West Indies
  • Red Sea
  • Indo-Pacific Region
  • Islands of the Pacific
  • Rotuma Island (Fiji)
  • Taiwan
  • Caroline Islands
  • Red Sea Region
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Australia
  • Indonesia
  • Dominica

Physical description

Number of pages: 9; Page numbers: 431-439

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