Alexander Agassiz

Alexander Emmanuel Rodolphe Agassiz (December 17, 1835 – March 27, 1910), son of Louis Agassiz and stepson of Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz, was an American scientist and engineer.[1]

Alexander Agassiz
Portrait of Alexander Emanuel Agassiz
BornDecember 17, 1835
DiedMarch 27, 1910 (aged 74)
at sea aboard the RMS Adriatic
NationalitySwitzerland, United States
Alma materHarvard University
ChildrenRodolphe Louis Agassiz, Maximilian Agassiz, George R. Agassiz
Appletons' Agassiz Alexander signature


Agassiz was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland and immigrated to the United States with his father, Louis, in 1849. He graduated from Harvard University in 1855, subsequently studying engineering and chemistry, and taking the degree of bachelor of science at the Lawrence scientific school of the same institution in 1857; in 1859 became an assistant in the United States Coast Survey.[2] Thenceforward he became a specialist in marine ichthyology.[3] Agassiz was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1862.[4] Up until the summer of 1866, Agassiz worked as an assistant in the museum of natural history that his father founded at Harvard.

Alexander Agassiz crop - Harvard Daguerreotypes - sAg 168.70.1
Agassiz circa 1860

E. J. Hulbert, a friend of Agassiz's brother-in-law, Quincy Adams Shaw, had discovered a rich copper lode known as the Calumet conglomerate on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan. Hulbert persuaded them, along with a group of friends, to purchase a controlling interest in the mines, which later became known as the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company based in Calumet, Michigan. That summer, he took a trip to see the mines for himself and he afterwards became treasurer of the enterprise.

Over the winter of 1866 and early 1867, mining operations began to falter, due to the difficulty of extracting copper from the conglomerate. Hulbert had sold his interests in the mines and had moved on to other ventures. But Agassiz refused to give up hope for the mines. He returned to the mines in March 1867, with his wife and young son. At that time, Calumet was a remote settlement, virtually inaccessible during the winter and very far removed from civilization even during the summer. With insufficient supplies at the mines, Agassiz struggled to maintain order, while back in Boston, Shaw was saddled with debt and the collapse of their interests. Shaw obtained financial assistance from John Simpkins, the selling agent for the enterprise to continue operations.

Agassiz continued to live at Calumet, making gradual progress in stabilizing the mining operations, such that he was able to leave the mines under the control of a general manager and return to Boston in 1868 before winter closed navigation. The mines continued to prosper and in May 1871, several mines were consolidated to form the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company with Shaw as its first president. In August 1871, Shaw "retired" to the board of directors and Agassiz became president, a position he held until his death. Until the turn of the century, this company was by far the largest copper producer in the United States, many years producing over half of the total.

Agassiz was a major factor in the mine's continued success and visited the mines twice a year. He innovated by installing a giant engine, known as the Superior, which was able to lift 24 tons of rock from a depth of 1,200 metres (3,900 feet). He also built a railroad and dredged a channel to navigable waters. However, after a time the mines did not require his full-time, year-round, attention and he returned to his interests in natural history at Harvard. Out of his copper fortune, he gave some US$500,000 to Harvard for the museum of comparative zoology and other purposes.[5]

Shortly after the death of his father in 1873, Agassiz acquired a small peninsula in Newport, Rhode Island, which features spectacular views of Narragansett Bay. Here he built a substantial house and a laboratory for use as his summer residence. The house was completed in 1875 and today is known as the Inn at Castle Hill.

In 1875, he surveyed Lake Titicaca, Peru, examined the copper mines of Peru and Chile, and made a collection of Peruvian antiquities for the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), of which he was first curator from 1874 to 1885 and then director until his death in 1910.[6] He assisted Charles Wyville Thomson in the examination and classification of the collections of the 1872 Challenger Expedition, and wrote the Review of the Echini (2 vols., 1872–1874) in the reports. Between 1877 and 1880 he took part in the three dredging expeditions of the steamer Blake of the Coast Survey, and presented a full account of them in two volumes (1888).[3]

In 1896 Agassiz visited Fiji and Queensland and inspected the Great Barrier Reef, publishing a paper on the subject in 1898.

Of Agassiz's other writings on marine zoology, most are contained in the bulletins and memoirs of the museum of comparative zoology. However, in 1865, he published with Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, his stepmother, Seaside Studies in Natural History, a work at once exact and stimulating. They also published, in 1871, Marine Animals of Massachusetts Bay.[3]

He received the German Order Pour le Mérite for Science and Arts in August 1902.[7]

Agassiz served as a president of the National Academy of Sciences, which since 1913 has awarded the Alexander Agassiz Medal in his memory. He died in 1910 on board the RMS Adriatic en route to New York from Southampton.[8]

He was the father of three sons – George R. Agassiz (1861–1951), Maximilian Agassiz (1866–1943) and Rodolphe Agassiz (1871–1933).


Alexander Agassiz is commemorated in the scientific name of a species of lizard, Anolis agassizi.[9]


See also


  1. ^ The Guide to Nature. 1910. Alexander Emmanuel Rudolph Agassiz, better known to the world as Alexander Agassiz, simply, was for nearly half a century, in portions of the 19th and 20th, one of the most remarkable scientists of his time, but, unlike nearly all others who have devoted their lives to original research, he was a man of wealth which counted among the millions.
  2. ^ Leonard, John William; Marquis, Albert Nelson, eds. (1908), Who's who in America, 5, Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, Incorporated, p. 14.
  3. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Agassiz, Alexander Emanuel" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 366–367.
  4. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 May 2011. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  5. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  6. ^ About MCZ (History) - Archived 2018-05-18 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Court Circular". The Times (36850). London. 19 August 1902. p. 8.
  8. ^ Staff writers (30 March 1910). "Prof. Agassiz Dies on Liner at Sea". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Prss. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Agassiz, A.E.", p. 2).

External links

Agassizia excentrica

Agassizia excentrica is a species of sea urchin of the family Prenasteridae. The species was first scientifically described in 1869 by Alexander Agassiz.

Alexander Agassiz Medal

The Alexander Agassiz Medal is awarded every three years by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences for an original contribution in the science of oceanography. It was established in 1911 by Sir John Murray in honor of his friend, the scientist Alexander Agassiz.

Anabrissus damesi

Anabrissus damesi is a species of sea urchin of the family Brissidae. Their armour is covered with spines. It is placed in the genus Anabrissus and lives in the sea. Anabrissus damesi was first scientifically described in 1881 by Alexander Agassiz, American scientist and engineer.

Araeosoma eurypatum

Araeosoma eurypatum is a species of sea urchin of the family Echinothuriidae. Their armour is covered with spines. It is placed in the genus Araeosoma and lives in the sea. Araeosoma eurypatum was first scientifically described in 1909 by Alexander Agassiz and Hubert Clark.

Bjørn Helland-Hansen

Bjørn Helland-Hansen (16 October 1877 – 7 September 1957) was a Norwegian pioneer in the field of modern oceanography. He studied the variation patterns of the weather in the northern Atlantic Ocean and of the atmosphere. He studied both medicine and physics at the University of Christiania (now University of Oslo).

He developed the "Helland-Hansen Photometer" in 1910, which was carried on board Michael Sars. It was operated for the first time close to the Azores at a depth between 500 and m. In 1915 he became Professor of oceanography at the Bergen Museum, and in 1917 director of the Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen.In 1933 he was awarded the Alexander Agassiz Medal. From 1946 to 1948, Helland-Hansen was President of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). He was a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences and a member of the Member of the Academy of Sciences of the German Democratic Republic (DDR).

Helland-Hansen trained Alexander Kuchin, the Russian oceanographer who went to Antarctica with Roald Amundsen. An island in the Russian Arctic, east of the Geiberg Islands, has been named Gellanda-Gansena after Helland-Hansen.

Centrocidaris doederleini

Centrocidaris doederleini is a species of sea urchins of the Family Cidaridae. Their armour is covered with spines. Centrocidaris doederleini was first scientifically described in 1898 by Alexander Agassiz.


Chondrocidaris is a genus of sea urchins of the family Cidaridae described in 1863 by Alexander Agassiz. There are two living species and several fossil species dating as far back as the Miocene.

Living species

Chondrocidaris brevispina (Clark, 1925)

Chondrocidaris gigantea (Agassiz, 1863)Extinct species

Chondrocidaris clarkii

Chondrocidaris marianica

Chondrocidaris problepteryx

Chondrocidaris gigantea

Chondrocidaris gigantea is a species of sea urchins of the Family Cidaridae. Their armour is covered with spines. Chondrocidaris gigantea was first scientifically described in 1863 by Alexander Agassiz.

Chondrocladia concrescens

Chondrocladia concrescens (formerly Cladorhiza concrescens), is a carnivorous sponge in the Cladorhizidae family. It is thought that the object known as the Eltanin Antenna may be an individual of this species. Alexander Agassiz described the sponges as having "a long stem ending in ramifying roots, sunk deeply into the mud. The stem has nodes with four to six club-like appendages. They evidently cover like bushes extensive tracts of the bottom."

Cidaris blakei

Cidaris blakei is a species of sea urchins of the family Cidaridae. Its armour is covered with spines of three types, one unique type being extended and fan-like, making it easily recognized. Alexander Agassiz first described it scientifically in 1878. It is present on the seabed in deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas.

Dean Roemmich

Dean Roemmich is a contemporary American physical oceanographer.

Roemmich was the early leader behind the sensors array Argo which continuously and globally measures vertical profiles of oceanic conditions, chiefly temperature and salinity.

He received the Sverdrup Gold Medal Award from the American Meteorological Society in 2008 for "his contributions to the measurement and understanding of the ocean's role in climate, and for leading the development and implementation of the Argo array". He joined Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1981.He received the 2018 Alexander Agassiz Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.

George V. Lauder

George V. Lauder is a noted Professor of Organismal and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He started his biology degree at Harvard in the early 1970s graduating in 1976. This was followed with a Masters (1978) and PhD in 1979. Between 1979 and 1981 he worked as a Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows Harvard University and from there he joined the University of Chicago as a member of faculty. Between 1986 and 1999 he was a faculty member in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Since 1999 he has been the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology as well as Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

His research has focussed on biomechanics, particularly the evolution of fishes undertaking laboratory work on kinematics, muscle function, and hydrodynamics of freely-swimming fishes. Extending this work and applying this work he has gone on to analyzing fish locomotive function and the design of fish-like robotic biorobotic platforms.

Giant isopod

A giant isopod is any of the almost 20 species of large isopods (crustaceans distantly related to shrimp and crabs, which are decapods) in the genus Bathynomus. They are abundant in the cold, deep waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Bathynomus giganteus, the species upon which the generitype is based, is often considered the largest isopod in the world, though other comparably poorly known species of Bathynomus species may reach a similar size (e.g., B. kensleyi). The giant isopods are noted for their resemblance to the much smaller common woodlouse (pill bug), to which they are related.French zoologist Alphonse Milne-Edwards was the first to describe the genus in 1879 after his colleague Alexander Agassiz collected a juvenile male B. giganteus from the Gulf of Mexico; this was an exciting discovery for both scientists and the public, as at the time the idea of a lifeless or "azoic" deep ocean had only recently been refuted by the work of Sir Charles Wyville Thomson and others. No females were recovered until 1891.

Giant isopods are of little interest to most commercial fisheries, but are infamous for attacking and destroying fish caught in trawls. Specimens caught in the Americas and Japan are sometimes seen in public aquariums.


Hemicentrotus pulcherrimus is a species of sea urchin, the only one in the monotypic genus Hemicentrotus. It was first described by the American engineer and marine zoologist Alexander Agassiz in 1864 as Psammechinus pulcherrimus. Its range extends along the coasts of Korea and China, and in Japan from Kyūshū to Ishikari Bay. An edible species, it is harvested from Kyūshū to Fukui, in the Sea of Japan.

Henry Bryant Bigelow

Henry Bryant Bigelow (October 3, 1879 – December 11, 1967) was an American oceanographer and marine biologist.

After graduating from Harvard in 1901, he began working with famed ichthyologist Alexander Agassiz. Bigelow accompanied Agassiz on several major marine science expeditions including one aboard the Albatross in 1907. He began working at the Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1905 and joined Harvard's faculty in 1906 where he worked for 62 years.

In 1911, Bigelow was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He helped found the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1930 and was its founding director. During his life he published more than one hundred papers and several books. He was a world-renowned expert on coelenterates and elasmobranchs.

In 1948 Bigelow was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.

Hotel Agassiz

Hotel Agassiz is a historic building in Boston designed by Weston & Rand and built in 1872. It is located at 191 Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay. The building was designed for Alexander Agassiz (son of Harvard University naturalist Louis Agassiz) and his brother-in-law Henry Lee Higginson (son of George Higginson who founded the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Alexander Agassiz was the developer and president of the Calumet Mine and Hecla Copper Mines.

James Hanken

James Hanken is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University as well as the director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Hanken received his bachelor's degree and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He then did post-doctoral research at Dalhousie University before joining the faculty of the University of Colorado at Boulder. He joined the Harvard faculty in 1999.

Hanken has written over 100 scientific papers. He is also a photographer, his photos having been published in Natural History and Audubon among other publications. Hanken is also one of the people involved in the creation of the Encyclopedia of Life.

Among books by Hanken is The Skull: Functional and Evolutionary Mechanisms (University of Chicago Press) written with Brian Keith Hall.

Martin Knudsen

Martin Hans Christian Knudsen (February 15, 1871 in Hasmark – May 27, 1949 in Copenhagen) was a Danish physicist who taught and conducted research at the Technical University of Denmark

He is primarily known for his study of molecular gas flow and the development of the Knudsen cell, which is a primary component of molecular beam epitaxy systems.

Knudsen received the University's gold medal in 1895 and earned his master's degree in physics the following year. He became lecturer in physics at the University in 1901 and professor in 1912, when Christian Christiansen (1843–1917) retired. He held this post until his own retirement in 1941.

Knudsen was renowned for his work on kinetic-molecular theory and low-pressure phenomena in gases. His name is associated with the Knudsen flow, Knudsen diffusion, Knudsen number, Knudsen layer and Knudsen gases. Also there is the Knudsen equation; two instruments, the Knudsen absolute manometer and Knudsen gauge; and one gas pump that operates without moving parts, the Knudsen pump. His book, The Kinetic Theory of Gases (London, 1934), contains the main results of his research.

Knudsen was also very active in physical oceanography, developing methods of defining properties of seawater. He was editor of Hydrological Tables (Copenhagen–London, 1901).

He was awarded the Alexander Agassiz Medal of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1936.

Walter C. Pitman III

Walter Clarkson Pitman III (born 21 October 1931) is an American geophysicist and a professor emeritus at Columbia University. His measurements of magnetic anomalies on the ocean floor supported the Morley–Vine–Matthews hypothesis explaining seafloor spreading. With William Ryan, he developed the Black Sea deluge theory. Among his major awards are the Alexander Agassiz Medal and the Vetlesen Prize.

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