Hyatt, Alpheus, 1838-1902

Variant names

Hide Profile

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)

Alpheus Hyatt II, naturalist, paleontologist, and educator, was born in Washington, D. C. an April 5, 1838, the son of Alpheus and Harriet Randolph (King) Hyatt. He attended various private schools, including the Maryland Military Academy, and then entered the class of 1856 at Yale. After completing his freshman year, however, he dropped out for a year of travel in Europe with his mother, upon his return he entered Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University. As an outstanding pupil of Louis Agassiz, he graduated with highest honors in 1862. He then enlisted as a private in the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry for the Civil War, emerging with the rank of captain.

At the end of his service, Hyatt decided to pursue his scientific studies, working for a time at the Essex Institute at Salem, Mass. where he and other naturalist friends founded and for a number of years edited the "American Naturalist". In 1867 he was appointed one of the curators of the Essex Institute, working with his friends A. S. Packard, A. E. Verrill, E. S. Morse, and Alexander Agassiz. He took an active part in the foundation of the Peabody Academy of Science. In 1867 he married Audella Beebe and soon became the father of Alpheus Hyatt III, Harriet Randolph Hyatt and Anna Vaughn Hyatt. A second son died in infancy. In 1871 Hyatt was elected custodian of the Boston Society of Natural History, becoming its curator in 1881 and remaining the scientific head of the society until his death in 1902. After 1873 he made his home in Cambridge where he could be near the great collection of fossil cephalopods of the Museum of Comparative Zoology which were his first scientific love. In 1879 he established a summer laboratory for the study of marine zoology at his country home at Annisquam, Mass. He kept a 60 foot schooner with which he made scientific cruises along the New England coast to study fossils and the general geology of these regions. But the location was found unfavorable for the site of a general marine laboratory, so after a few years the station was moved to Woods Hole, Mass., and Hyatt became the first president of its board of trustees.

As an educator, Hyatt served as professor of zoology and paleontology at M.I.T., a chair he held for eighteen years. He also was professor of biology and zoology at Boston University from 1877 until his death. His scientific studies revolved around the lower forms of animal life and was one of the first to combine the study of both living and fossil forms. In 1875 he was elected a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and in 1898 received the honorary degree of L1. D. from Brown University. His studies took him ton y parts of the world. He died at his home at Cambridge in 1902.

From the guide to the Alpheus Hyatt II Papers, 1854-1958, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Gulick, John Thomas, 1832-1923. Papers, 1853-1898. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Cooper Curtice Papers, 1822-1953 Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIj, 1898-1988 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Hyatt, Alpheus, 1838-1902. Personal recollections of Prof. Louis Agassiz. Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Audella Beebe Hyatt Papers, 1858-1957 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Harvard University. Museum of Comparative Zoology. Records, 1859-1984 (inclusive), 1859-1946 (bulk). Harvard University, Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology
referencedIn National Academy Of Sciences, Archives. Deceased Members.
referencedIn Joseph Jones collection of papers relating to Indians of Tennessee, 1846-1889, 1867-1868. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
creatorOf Records of the U.S. Geological Survey. 1839 - 2008. Personal Letters Received National Archives at College Park
referencedIn Agassiz Zoological Club (Harvard University). Records of the Agassiz Zoological Club, 1859-1862 and 1917-1922. Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873. Papers, 1833-1873. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Boston Museum Of Science. Boston Society Of Natural History Papers.
referencedIn William B. Provine collection of evolutionary biology reprints, 20th century. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIi, 1897 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873. Papers of Louis Agassiz, 1847-1898. Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Thomas Wentworth Higginson correspondence Houghton Library
referencedIn Museum of Comparative Zoology collection of portraits, 1850-1950 (bulk). Harvard University, Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology
referencedIn Hartt, Charles Frederick, 1840-1878. Charles Frederick Hartt papers, 1863-1874. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Maryland Historical Society. Hyatt Collection.
referencedIn Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. Correspondence, 1863-1879 Smithsonian Institution Archives
referencedIn Harvard University. Chest of 1900. Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Gulick, John Thomas, 1832-1923. John Thomas Gulick papers, 1841-1916. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Alpheus Hyatt II Papers, 1854-1958 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Essex Institute. Autograph Collection.
referencedIn Gulick, John Thomas, 1832-1923. Papers, 1853-1898 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf OAC Review Index (University of Guelph). Medals, Scholarships and Prizes announced April 1937, OAC Review, v.49, no.7, Apr.-May 1937, p. 464, 466, 468, 470. University of Guelph. McLaughlin Library
referencedIn Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Portraits, ca. 1852-ca. 2004 Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Hyatt, Alpheus, 1838-1902. Alpheus Hyatt Papers, 1841-1887. Peabody Essex Museum
referencedIn Hyatt and Mayer Collection, 1804-1921 Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special CollectionsManuscripts Division
referencedIn Jackson, Robert Tracy, 1861-1948. Alpheus Hyatt : his life and scientific work. Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Jones, Joseph, 1833-1896. Joseph Jones collection of papers relating to Indians of Tennessee, 1846-1889 1867-1868. Cornell University Library
creatorOf Records of the U.S. Geological Survey. 1839 - 2008. Letters Received by John Wesley Powell Regarding His Resignation as Director National Archives at College Park
referencedIn Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. Correspondence, 1865-1891 Smithsonian Institution Archives
referencedIn Princeton University Library, Dept. Of Rare Books & Mss., Ms. Hyatt And Mayer Correspondence.
referencedIn Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Commandery of the State of Massachusetts Civil War collection, 1724-1933 (inclusive); 1861-1912 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIh, 1892-1896 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Smithsonian Archives. Ru 52: Assistant Secretary, Incoming Correspondenc.
creatorOf Louis Jean Rodolph Agassiz papers, 1833-1873, 1833-1873 1833-1873 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Hyatt, Alpheus, 1838-1902. Pamphlets on geology and zoology, 1865-1900 : with sketch of the author. Brown University, Brown University Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Agassiz, Alexander, 1835-1910 person
associatedWith Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873. person
associatedWith Agassiz Zoological Club (Harvard University) corporateBody
associatedWith American Philosophical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Arethusa (Ship) corporateBody
correspondedWith Baird, Spencer F. person
associatedWith Beecher, Charles Emerson, 1856-1904 person
associatedWith Boston Society Of Natural History corporateBody
correspondedWith Brewer, T. M. person
associatedWith Buckland, William, 1784-1856 person
associatedWith Cope, E. D. (Edward Drinker), 1840-1897 person
correspondedWith Curtice, Cooper, 1856-1939. person
associatedWith Dall, William Healey person
associatedWith Dana, James Dwight, 1813-1895 person
associatedWith Davis, Charles Henry, 1807-1877 person
associatedWith Diller, J. S. (Joseph Silas), b. 1850 person
associatedWith Eliot, Charles William, 1834-1926 person
associatedWith Emery, Charles Edward, 1838-1898 person
associatedWith Essex Institute corporateBody
associatedWith Gilbert, Grove Karl, 1843-1918 person
associatedWith Goode, G. Brown (George Brown), 1851-1896 person
associatedWith Gray, Asa, 1810-1888 person
associatedWith Gray, John Edward, 1800-1875 person
associatedWith Gulick, John Thomas, 1832-1923. person
associatedWith Hartt, Charles Frederick, 1840-1878. person
associatedWith Harvard University. corporateBody
associatedWith Harvard University. Museum of Comparative Zoology. corporateBody
associatedWith Haven, Franklin, 1857-1908 person
associatedWith Hayden, Dr. person
correspondedWith Henry, Joseph, 1797-1878 person
associatedWith Higginson, Thomas Wentworth, 1823-1911 person
correspondedWith Hilgard, Julius Erasmus person
associatedWith Hill, Robert Thomas, 1858-1841 person
associatedWith Huntington, Anna Hyatt, 1876-1973 person
associatedWith Hyatt, Audella Beebe, 1840-1932 person
associatedWith Hyatt family. family
associatedWith Jackson, Robert Tracy, 1861-1948. person
associatedWith Jones, Joseph, 1833-1896. person
associatedWith Jones, Joseph (Dr.) person
associatedWith Joseph, Jones 1833-1896. person
associatedWith Kidder, Frederic, 1804-1885 person
associatedWith Layard, Austen Henry, Sir, 1817-1894 person
associatedWith LeConte, John L., (John Lawrence), 1825-1883 person
associatedWith LeConte, Joseph, 1823-1901 person
correspondedWith Leech, Daniel person
associatedWith Lesquereux, Leo, 1806-1889 person
associatedWith Marcou, Jules, 1824-1898 person
associatedWith Mayer, Alfred M. (Alfred Marshall), 1836-1897 person
associatedWith Mayor family. family
associatedWith Mayor, Harriet Randolph Hyatt, 1868-1960 person
associatedWith McLane, Allan person
associatedWith Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Commandery of the State of Massachusetts, collector. corporateBody
associatedWith Milne-Edwards, H., (Henri), 1800-1885 person
correspondedWith Nelson, S. Aug. person
associatedWith OAC Review Index (University of Guelph) corporateBody
associatedWith Parsons, Thomas William, 1819-1892 person
associatedWith Peabody Museum corporateBody
correspondedWith Provine, William B. person
associatedWith Schuchert, Charles, 1858-1942 person
correspondedWith Smithsonian Institution corporateBody
associatedWith Stimpson, William person
associatedWith Walcott, Charles D. (Charles Doolittle), 1850-1927 person
associatedWith Wallace, S. J. person
associatedWith Wilson, Henry, 1812-1875 person
associatedWith Winsor, Justin, 1831-1897 person
associatedWith Wyman, Jeffries person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Ethnology Archaeology Anthropology
Exchanges Of Publications
National Academy of Sciences
National Museum
Natural history
Natural history museums
Science and technology
Scientific expeditions
Scientific publications
Smithsonian Exchange
Smithsonian Publications
Voyages and travels
Zoological museums


Birth 1838-04-05

Death 1902-01-15





Ark ID: w6572658

SNAC ID: 57350512