Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873

Alternative names
Birth 1807-05-28
Death 1873-12-14
English, French, German

Biographical notes:

Swiss American zoologist and geologist and Harvard University professor.

From the description of Louis Agassiz letters, 1854-1858. (Montana State University Bozeman Library). WorldCat record id: 154689919

Agassiz was born in Switzerland; taught at Neuchâtel from 1832 to 1845; and in 1846 moved to the United States to teach natural history at Harvard. Agassiz and his wife, Elizabeth Cabot Cary, spent 19 months in Brazil (1865-1866) to collect zoological specimens for the Harvard Museum. An account of this expedition is found in A Journey to Brazil (1868) written mainly by Elizabeth. Agassiz's collections formed the basis of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard.

From the description of Letters to Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, 1863-1882. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 612367483

Swiss-American zoologist and geologist. Professor of zoology and geology at Harvard University.

From the description of Louis Agassiz Letters, 1854-1858. (Montana State University Bozeman Library). WorldCat record id: 54856099

Zoologist. Full name: Jean Louis Rudolphe Agassiz.

From the description of Louis Agassiz correspondence, undated. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79449087

Agassiz was born in Switzerland; taught at Neuchâtel from 1832 to 1845; and in 1846 moved to the United States to teach natural history at Harvard. Agassiz and his wife, Elizabeth Cabot Cary, spent 19 months in Brazil (1865-1866) to collect zoological specimens for the Harvard Museum. An account of this expedition is found in A Journey to Brazil (1868) written mainly by Elizabeth. Agassiz's collections formed the basis of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard.

From the guide to the Letters to Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, 1863-1882., (Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)

Swiss-American zoologist and geologist. Professor of zoology and geology at Harvard University. Louis Agassiz was born in Môtier-en-Vuly, Switzerland. He studied at the universities of Zürich, Erlangen (Ph.D., 1829), Heidelberg, and Munich (M.D., 1830). Agassiz studied medicine briefly but turned to zoology, with a special interest in fishes and fossils, while studying under the French naturalist Cuvier. In 1832 he became professor of natural history at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. During this period Agassiz published Recherches sur les poissons fossiles (5 vol. and atlas, 183344), various studies of fossil echinoderms and mollusks, and Étude sur les glaciers (1840), one of the first descriptions of glacial movements and glacial deposits. Agassiz arrived in the United States in 1846 and accepted the professorship of zoology and geology at Harvard University in 1848. Among his areas of interest were Amazonian ichthyology and deep-sea studies of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States. Agassiz was instrumental in founding the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, in 1860.

From the guide to the Louis Agassiz Letters, 1854-1858, (Montana State University-Bozeman Library, Merrill G Burlingame Special Collections)

Agassiz received an honorary degree from Harvard in 1848 and was Professor of Zoology and Geology at Harvard.

From the description of Papers of Louis Agassiz, 1847-1898. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76972757

Agassiz was a zoologist and geologist who served as a professor at Harvard University' Lawrence Scientific School (1847-73) and founded Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology.

From the guide to the Louis Agassiz correspondence and other papers, 1821-1877., (Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)

From the description of Louis Agassiz correspondence and other papers, 1821-1877. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 612748713

Naturalist; founder of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

From the description of Letter : Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., to Dear Sir, 1873 Jan. 22. (Buffalo History Museum). WorldCat record id: 56357671

Louis Jean Rodolph Agassiz was a naturalist and founded the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

From the description of Papers, 1833-1873. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122347512

Swiss-born U.S. naturalist, geologist and teacher.

From the description of Louis Agassiz letters, 1836-1861. (Duke University). WorldCat record id: 34766302

Robert William Hughes was born at Muddy Creek Plantation, Powhatan County, Va. in 1821. His parents died in 1822 and he was raised by Edward C. Carrington and Eliza Preston Carrington. He attended Caldwell Institute, Greensboro, N. C. and studied law in Fincastle, Va. He married Eliza M. Johnston, niece of Joseph E. Johnston and the adopted daughter and niece of John B. Floyd. Hughes' son was Robert Morton Hughes. Robert William Hughes was a newspaper editor and federal district attorney. Involved in post Civil War Republican Party politics, he was nominated for governor of Virginia and for Congress but did not win. He was appointed judge of the federal court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

  • 16 Jan. 1821: Born at Muddy Creek Plantation, Powhatan Co., Va.,the son of Jesse and Elizabeth Woodson (Morton) Hughes.
  • 1822: Both parents died, and Hugheswas raised by Gen. Edward C. Carringtonand his wife, Eliza(Preston) Carringtonof Halifax Co., Va.(family relationship not known).
  • Ca. 1833 - 1837 : "put to the carpenter's trade in Princeton, N.J."
  • Ca. 1837 - 1838 : Attended Caldwell Institute,Greensboro, N.C.
  • Ca. 1839: Tutor, Bingham High School,Hillsboro, N.C.
  • 1843: Studied law, Fincastle, Va.
  • 1846: Began practice of law, Richmond, Va.
  • 4 June 1850: Married Eliza M. Johnston,(1825-1908), niece of Gen. Joseph E. Johnstonand niece and adopted daughter of John Buchananand Sarah (Preston) Floyd.
  • 1850: Began writing editorials for the Richmond Examiner.
  • 1853 - 1857 : Editor of the Richmond Examinerwhile regular editor in Europe.
  • 1855: Birth of son, Robert Morton Hughes.
  • 1857 - 1861 : Editor of the Washington Union,and lived in home of Secretary of War John Buchanan Floyd.
  • 1861: Birth of son, Floyd Hughes(2 other children died young)
  • 1861: Because of "chronic disease" retired to a farm near Abingdon, Va.,where General and Mrs. Floyd1ived with the Hughes family.
  • 1861 - 1864 : Wrote for the Richmond Examiner,showing hostility toward Jefferson Davis' administration.
  • 1865 - 1866 : Edited the Richmond Republic,and generally pursued a course that considered "nimble"
  • 1868: Delegate to National Democratic Convention.
  • 1869 - 1870 : Editor of the Richmond State Journal.
  • Ca. 1870: Wounded William E. Cameronin a duel.
  • 1872: Named federal district attorney by Grant administration.
  • 1872: Nominated for Congressbut did not win.
  • 1873: Nominated for Governor of Virginiabut did not win.
  • 1874: Named Judge of federal court for the Eastern District of Va.
  • 1898: Resigned judgeship.
  • 1901: Died at Abingdon, Va.

Dictionary of American Biography

From the guide to the Inventory of the Robert William Hughes Papers, 1818-1900, (Special Collections, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary)

Alexander Dallas Bache (1806-1867) was an important scientific reformer during the early nineteenth century. From his position as superintendent of the United States Coast Survey, and through leadership roles in the scientific institutions of the time, Bache helped bring American science into alignment with the professional nature of its European counterpart. In addition, Bache fostered the reform of public education in America.

On July 19, 1806 Alexander Dallas Bache was born into one of Philadelphia's elite families. The son of Richard Bache and Sophia Dallas, he was Benjamin Franklin's great-grandson, nephew to George Dallas (vice president under James K. Polk), and grandson to Alexander James Dallas (secretary of the treasury under James Madison). In 1821, Bache was admitted to the United States Military Academy at the age of 15, graduating first in his class four years later. He remained at the Academy for an additional two years to teach mathematics and natural history. While serving as a lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers, working on the construction of Fort Adams in Newport, R.I., he met Nancy Clarke Fowler whom he would later marry.

Bache left the Army in 1828 to begin an academic career, accepting an appointment as professor of natural philosophy and chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. Although his scientific interests were broad, he had a particular interest in geophyscial research. While in Philadelphia, he constructed a magnetic observatory, and made extensive research into terrestrial magnetism, and during the 1830s he began to be recognized as a leading figure in the city's scientific community. Bache was an active member of the American Philosphical Society and the Franklin Institute, seeking to raise the professional standards of both institutions and urging them to place a stronger emphasis on original research. While at the Franklin Institute from 1830-1835, Bache led a Federally-funded investigation into steam-boiler explosions, the government's first use of technical experts to examine a matter involving public policy.

In 1836 Bache became interested in educational reform when he was asked to help organize the curriculum at Girard College, of which he later served as president. Bache spent two years in Europe visiting over 250 educational institutions. The result of his visit was a 600 page study, Report on Education in Europe, to the Trustees of the Girard College for Orphans published in 1839. Although Bache was unable to apply the report at Girard College because of its delayed opening, it proved useful in overhauling the curriculum of Philadelphia's Central High School, where he was superintendent from 1839-1842, and was widely influential among American educational reformers, helping to introduce the Prussian educational model to the United States.

After meeting many of the leading savants during a European tour, including Alexander von Humboldt, Francois Arago, and Karl Friedrich Gauss, Bache became convinced of the need to professionalize American science. His opportunity to make an impact came in 1843 with the death of Ferdinand Hassler, superindendent of the U.S. Coast Survey. In the years before the Civil War, the Coast Survey supported more scientists then any other institution in the country, and Bache and his colleagues saw the Survey as a means of gaining federal patronage for science. After a campaign by his friends and colleagues, Bache was named as Hassler's replacement. Over the next two decades Bache transformed the Coast Survey into one of the nation's leading scientific institutions, becoming an important patron of science himself in the process . Bache was not just an administrator, but remained personally involved in field work.

Bache also led the reform of American science through his leadership of an elite group known as the "Lazzaroni" or scientific beggars. The goal of the Lazzaroni was to ensure that the nation's leading scientists kept control of the nation's scientific institutions, and they were instrumental in reforming the American Association for the Advancement of Science (of which Bache was president of in 1850). In his remarkably busy schedule, Bache was a member of the Lighthouse Board (1844-1845), superintendent of the Office of Weights and Measures (1844), and a prominent regent for the Smithsonian Institution, where he convinced fellow Lazzaroni Joseph Henry to become its first secretary. Bache also played a leading role in the creation of the National Academy of Sciences, serving as its first president. When the Americn Civil War broke out, Bache focused the Coast Survey to support the war effort, was vice president of the Sanitary Commision, a consultant to the army and navy on battle plans, a superintended for Philadelphia's defence plans, and a member of the Permanent Commission of the navy in charge of evaluating new weapons. Bache died in Newport, R.I. on February 17, 1867.

From the guide to the A. D. Bache Collection, 1833-1873, (American Philosophical Society)

Louis Agassiz (1807-1873, APS 1843) was a zoologist and geologist. A student of Georges Cuvier, Agassiz was renown for his six-volume work Poissons fossils, a study of more than 1,700 ancient fish. Equally important was his Ètudes sur les glaciers (1840). In 1845 Agassiz moved to the United States on a two-year study grant from King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia to compare the flora and fauna of the United States and Europe. While in the United States he was invited to deliver a course of lectures at the Lowell Institute in Boston. He took America and New England by storm and as a result in 1847 was appointed professor of zoology and geology at Harvard’s new Lawrence Scientific School.

Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz was born in Motier, Switzerland on May 26, 1807, the son of a Protestant minister Rodolphe Agassiz and his wife Rose Mayor. Despite family pressure to enter business, Agassiz early decided to devote himself to the study of nature. At the age of twenty-one he predicted that he would become “the first naturalist of his time, a good citizen and a good son.” His determination gained Agassiz an excellent education in the natural sciences at the Universities of Heidelberg and Munich. He also made important contacts in early life that formed his outlook and provided the basis for his early career. The naturalist Johann B. Spix allowed him to publish on a collection of fish from Brazil that Spix had gathered, while the anatomist Ignaz Döllinger trained him to use the microscope and introduced him to the field of embryology. Philosophically, Agassiz was influenced by the German idealism of Lorenz Okenfuss, who built a system of biological classification based upon increasing complexity of sense organs. Agassiz’s scientific thought and practice was characterized by two separate and often contradictory outlooks. One was exact and pragmatic; the other was transcendental. His approach was clearly influenced by French zoologist and paleontologist Georges Cuvier, who passed on to Agassiz his remarkable collection of fossil fish illustrations. He also impressed the geographer Alexander Humboldt, an adviser to the king of Prussia who arranged an appointment for him at the Collège de Neuchâtel in 1832, where he taught natural history for more than ten years. During these years (1832-42) he studied fossil fish in museums and private collections throughout Europe, resulting in his six-volume Poissons fossils that described more than 1,700 primeval fish, that he analyzed according to Cuvier’s comparative method. The work, which won high praise from major Bristish naturalists Sir Charles Lyell and Richard Owen, provided the basis for Agassiz’s scientific fame and fortune. His natural philosophy was infused with the belief in an all-powerful diety, who planned and created every single living being, plant and animal, undercutting any genetic connection between ancient and modern creatures.

In addition to his work on fish, between 1837 and 1843 Agassiz did ground breaking work on glacial geology, presented in a paper presented to the Sociètè Helvétique des Sciences naturelles (July 1837) and in his book Etudes sur les glaciers in which he theorized that a massive glacier had once covered all of Europe. Although the idea had first been suggested by Swiss naturalist Jean de Charpentier, Agassiz was the first to publicize the idea and to apply it to all of Europe. A prolific writer, who wished to be personally involved with the production of his works, Agassiz developed a publishing house in Neuchâtel, that employed the latest technology in photo duplication and produced bibliographies, dictionaries and monographs by Agassiz and his assistants. In the spring of 1845 Agassiz’s fortunes abruptly shifted. His wife Cécile Braun Agassiz left her husband and Neuchâtel, his printing business closed due to accumulated debts, and he was forced to leave the Collège de Neuchâtel. Just as his luck seemed to run out, he received word of a 2-year grant secured for him by Humboldt from King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia for $3,000 to do a comparative study of the flora and fauna of the United States and Europe.

Shortly after the arrival of Agassiz in the United States, John Amory Lowell, manufacturer and head of the Lowell Institute in Boston, invited him to deliver a course of public lectures. New Englanders found the Swiss naturalist, who spoke enthusiastically about primitive fish and prehistoric glaciers, intriguing. New England scientific luminaries such as Harvard botanist Asa Gray and Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman lauded Agassiz as “full of knowledge on all subjects of science.” His lectures created such a demand for speaking engagements, that within less than two years Agassiz was able to repay $20,000 in European debt. In the fall of 1847 Harvard University offered him a chair of zoology and geology at its newly established Lawrence Scientic School. In July 1848, after his wife’s death, he arranged for his children to join him in the United States. These events, together with his 1850 marriage to a bright well-connected Bostonian Elizabeth Cabot Carey, sixteen years Agassiz’s junior, permanently anchored the Swiss scientist in America. Soon afterward Agassiz’s home in Cambridge became a center of intellectual life. As a Harvard professor he badgered the University continually for funds to build a major natural history museum to instruct the public and help to train advanced students. His efforts paid off in November 1859, when the Museum of Comparative Zoology opened its doors. The Museum provided a unique resource for American students to gain unrestricted, first hand access to natural specimens. Many practicing American naturalists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were trained by Agassiz and worked in his museum. The Museum testified to Agassiz’s passion for collecting and identifying the “entire natural kingdom all at once,” a desire that quickly filled the repository to overflowing with specimens. From a philosophical perspective Agassiz planned the Museum as a demonstration of the “master plan” that the diety had executed in the creation of the natural world, displaying the “type plan” of different classes and stressing the separate creation of each species. Agassiz’s core belief in the special creation of species by God undergirded his quest to locate new species. However, some colleagues criticized him as “species mad,” arguing that his museum and his methods added little to the conceptual understanding of natural history.

Agassiz’s reputation took a major hit in a series of Boston debates on evolution, after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. Agassiz made a poor defense of special creation against Darwin’s defenders Asa Gray and William Barton Rogers. Furthermore, Agassiz’s understanding of special creationism as applied to human beings led him to view various races as distinct species, a rationale quickly adopted by the proponents slavery, who asserted a scientific basis to white supremecy.

Concerned about the decline of his professional reputation in the 1850s, in 1855 Agassiz announced the forthcoming publication of a projected ten-volume entitled Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America. A total of 2,500 subscribers made advanced purchases at $12.00 each. The initial volume entitled Essay on Classification elaborated Agassiz’s views on classification, the philosophy of nature and the species concept. Appearing two years after Darwin’s Origin of Species, the work drew mixed reviews. Many were put off by the author’s dogmatism, others thought his views dated and moribund. Three more volumes appeared, but the publication of the projected set was never completed.

Many years later in 1872 Agassiz did reconsider evolution, trying to understand Darwin’s views by making a trip around South America, retracing Darwin’s voyage. However, he only became more convinced that the concept of evolution was “a scientific mistake, untrue to the facts, unscientific in its method, and mischievous in its tendency.” To the dismay of the scientific community Agassiz authored strident attacks on Darwinism in the popular press, infuriating Asa Gray and James Dana. Consequently, Agassiz was increasingly excluded from the politics of American science.

Agassiz remained at Harvard University until the end of his life. When he died at Cambridge, Massachusetts, he was deeply mourned by his adopted country.

From the guide to the Louis Jean Rodolph Agassiz papers, 1833-1873, 1833-1873 1833-1873, (American Philosophical Society)


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