Cobb, John N. (John Nathan), 1868-1930

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John N. Cobb was a fisheries biologist, author and editor, federal official, and university professor and administrator who was born 1868 in Oxford, New Jersey, and died in 1930 in La Jolla, California. John Cobb is best known as a leading authority on fisheries and for initiating and directing the University of Washington fisheries program. He became a leader in his field and received commissions to investigate fisheries along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the Great Lakes. Most of his work was in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, but his investigations included everything from lobster fisheries in Maine to sponge fisheries in Florida. Aside from his development of the UW fisheries program, Cobb's most noteworthy contributions were inventions to allow salmon to overcome modern barriers. These included fishways, such as escalators, to allow salmon to pass over dams, and electric gates to keep young salmon out of irrigation ditches. He worked for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, the Salmon Fisheries of Alaska, the journal Pacific Fisherman, and the Alaska Packers Association. He was asked to head the UW fisheries program when it opened in 1919 and served as its director (and later dean) until poor health forced him to resign ten years later. He also served as president of the Pacific Fisheries Society in the 1920s.

From the description of John N. Cobb papers 1876-1970 (bulk 1897-1930). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 39367141

Best known as a leading authority on fisheries and for initiating and directing the University of Washington fisheries program, John Cobb was a fisheries biologist, author and editor, federal official, and college professor. Cobb became a leader in his field and received commissions to investigate fisheries along the Atlantic coast, Great Lakes, and the Pacific coast. Most of Cobb’s work was in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, but his investigations included everything from lobster fisheries in Maine to sponge fisheries in Florida. Aside from his development of the University of Washington fisheries program, some of Cobb’s most noteworthy contributions were inventions to allow salmon to overcome modern barriers. These included fishways, such as escalators, to allow salmon to pass over dams, and electric gates to keep young salmon out of irrigation ditches.

Cobb was born in 1868 in Oxford, New Jersey, where he attended public schools. After finishing high school, Cobb received no further formal education. In the late 1880s, he began to work as a newspaper reporter and editor.

Cobb’s fisheries career began when he took a job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, which lasted from 1895 until 1904. At the bureau he authored various publications, but unlike his later works, Cobb’s research and writing in the 1890s reflected a lack of scientific training. During this time, Cobb married Harriet C. Bidwell of Jersey City in 1898.

As he gained more experience in the field, his work improved and his reputation began to spread; Cobb furthered his career in 1904 when he accepted a position as the assistant agent of the Salmon Fisheries of Alaska. From 1913 to 1917, he served as editor of the Pacific Fisherman, a journal published in Seattle. In 1917 Cobb became the assistant general superintendent of the Alaska Packers Association, a job he held until 1919.

In the 1910s Cobb began to encourage the University of Washington to establish the first fisheries college in the United States. The university had begun consulting Cobb about a fisheries program as early as 1914, but once World War I began, the university put the program on hold until 1919. When the university opened the school in 1919, Cobb was asked to be its director. Given that Cobb had not even earned a bachelor’s degree, his appointment was somewhat unusual and reflected his remarkable reputation and achievements. Without any familiarity with academic customs, Cobb was assigned to organize a new college, recruit faculty, establish a curriculum, and teach.

During Cobb’s tenure as director (and later dean) of the College of Fisheries, he continued to publish and enhance his reputation in the field. In 1921 and 1923, he served as president of the Pacific Fisheries Society. During his career at the University of Washington, Cobb also gained a reputation as an irascible character who dealt ruthlessly with students and faculty alike.

By 1929 Cobb had developed a debilitating heart condition that forced him to put his teaching and research aside. In January 1930, Cobb died of a heart attack in La Jolla, California, at the age of 61.

From the guide to the John N. Cobb papers, 1876-1970, 1897-1930, (University of Washington Libraries Special Collections)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Remsen, Ira, 1846-1927. Correspondence. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
referencedIn George Cary Eggleston Collection, 1874-1904 University of Virginia. Library. Special Collections Dept.
creatorOf Eggleston, George Cary, 1839-1911. Papers of George Cary Eggleston, 1874-1906. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIh, 1892-1896 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf John N. Cobb papers, 1876-1970, 1897-1930 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Goldborough, Edmund Lee. Papers, 1901-1903. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn William B. Provine collection of evolutionary biology reprints, 20th century. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn E. E. Wilson Papers, 1838-1961, 1850-1961 Oregon State University Archives
creatorOf Cobb, John N. (John Nathan), 1868-1930. John N. Cobb papers 1876-1970 (bulk 1897-1930). University of Washington Libraries
creatorOf Calderwood, Henry, 1830-1897. Autograph letter signed : Edinburgh, to John N. Cobb, 1893 Nov. 11. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Anders Beer Wilse Photographs, 1892-1913 Museum of History & Industry Sophie Frye Bass Library
creatorOf Cobb, John N. (John Nathan), 1868-1930. John N. Cobb photograph collection [graphic], 1897-1918. Alaska state library
referencedIn Autograph File, B, ca.1500-1976. Houghton Library
referencedIn Harvard University. Autograph File, G. 1641-2009. Houghton Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alaska Packers Association. corporateBody
associatedWith American Philosophical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Calderwood, Henry, 1830-1897. person
associatedWith Cobb, Genevieve Catherine, 1900-1977. person
associatedWith Eggleston, George Cary, 1839-1911. person
associatedWith Freeman, Miller, 1875-1955. person
associatedWith Goldborough, Edmund Lee. person
associatedWith Jordan, David Starr, 1851-1931. person
associatedWith Pacific Power and Light Company. corporateBody
correspondedWith Provine, William B. person
associatedWith Remsen, Ira, 1846-1927. person
associatedWith Seattle Photographic Company corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Bureau of Fisheries. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Washington corporateBody
associatedWith University of Washington. College of Fisheries. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Washington. Libraries. Special Collections Division. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Washington. University Archives. corporateBody
associatedWith Washington (State). Fisheries Board. corporateBody
associatedWith Wilse, Anders Beer, 1865-1949 person
associatedWith Wilson, E. E. (Eddy Elbridge), 1869-1961 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Washington (State)--Seattle
Washington (State)
Alaska
Pacific Coast (North America)
Subject
Canneries
Universities and colleges
College teachers
College teachers
Fisheries
Fisheries
Fisheries
Fisheries
Fisheries
Fisheries
Fisheries
Fisheries
Fisheries
Fisheries and Wildlife
Fishery innovations
Fishery innovations
Fishery schools
Fishery schools
Fishery schools
Fishery scientists
Fishery scientists
Fish hatcheries
Fishing
Fishing and Canning
Fishing boats
Fishway
Fishways
Photographs
Science
Scrapbooks
Seattle
Washington (State)
Occupation
Photographers
Activity

Person

Birth 1868-02-20

Death 1930-01-13

Americans

English

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