George Sprague Myers (1905-1985), ichthyologist, herpetologist, and educator, was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. He developed an early interest in vertebrate zoology--accumulating aquariums in which he kept species of exotic and native fishes. His first article on aquarium fishes was published at age fifteen, in 1920. Around this time Myers began frequenting the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, seeking advice on natural history questions. As a result, he became a volunteer assistant at the AMNH from 1922 to 1924. At the museum he came under the influence of the ichthyology and herpetology staff including G. K. Noble, Karl P. Schmidt, John T. Nichols, Eugene W. Grudger, John Tee-Van, Charles M. Breder, and others.
In 1924, Myers was introduced to Carl H. Eigenmann, who invited him to attend Indiana University and offered him a part-time curatorial assistantship working in the fish collections. Under Eigenmann's guidance, Myers further developed his interest in the systematics of South American fresh-water fishes. He remained in Bloomington until 1926, when Eigenmann fell ill and moved to California. In that year, Myers was contacted by David Starr Jordan about continuing his ichthyological studies at Stanford University. He accepted Jordan's offer and received an assistantship in the Natural History Museum. Myers' education was influenced by an outstanding group of systematic zoologists gathered together by Jordan. John O. Snyder, Edwin C. Starks, Harold Heath, G. F. Ferris, and Albert W. C. T. Herre each played a role in shaping his career. Myers received the A.B. degree in 1930; the A.M. degree in 1931; and the Ph.D. degree in 1933. His dissertation was entitled "The Classification of the African Cyprinodont Fishes, with a Discussion of the Geographical Distribution of the Cyprinodontidae of the World"--an indication of his early interest in biogeography.
Myers began his professional career at the United States National Museum (USNM), where he was appointed Assistant Curator in charge of the Division of Fishes in 1933. His four-year tenure at the USNM was marked by fiscal restraints brought on by the Depression. The lack of technical and clerical assistance made it necessary for him to spend large amounts of time curating, organizing, and arranging the museum's fish collections. There was little time for research, although he did manage to publish several short papers and conduct a survey of the fresh-water fishes of Virginia with his USNM assistant, Earl D. Reid.
In 1936, Myers returned to Stanford, accepting appointment as Associate Professor of Biology and Head Curator of Zoological Collections. By 1938, he had been advanced to Professor. He remained in that position at Stanford until his statutory retirement in 1970. Perhaps the three outstanding achievements of his career at Stanford were development of a curriculum in systematic ichthyology, increasing and reorganizing the zoological collections in the Natural History Museum, and his guidance of a long line of outstanding graduate students, many of whom became distinguished in their chosen fields.
From 1942 to 1944, Myers served as a Special Professor of Ichthyology at the Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His work was funded by the Committee for Inter-American Artistic and Intellectual Relations, a government-supported effort to maintain good relations with Latin America during World War II. At the museum he assisted with curatorial and library duties, exhibits, and administration. He also aided the Brazilian Fish and Game Division. Between 1970 and 1972 he served as Henry Bryant Bigelow Visiting Professor of Ichthyology and Alexander Agassiz Visiting Professor of Zoology at Harvard University.
While interested in all lower vertebrates, Myers' most influential research was on fishes. His greatest ichthyological interests were the characins, cichlids, cyprinodonts, and Asiatic cyprinids. He was an important advocate of modern ideas of fish evolution and was instrumental in developing the most widely accepted system of classifying the world fish fauna as primary freshwater, secondary freshwater, peripheral, or marine. Much of his biogeographical research tended to give credence to the theory of continental drift based on evidence derived through observations of primary freshwater fishes.
Myers was a prolific writer and his bibliography included over six hundred titles on ichthyology, herpetology, biogeography, the history of systematic zoology, and museum practices. He was also an accomplished editor. From 1932 to 1960, he served as associate editor of William T. Innes's The Aquarium and was scientific editor of all nineteen editions of Innes's Exotic Aquarium Fishes. He was the founder and editor of the Stanford Ichthyological Bulletin, 1938-1967; editor of The Aquarium Journal, 1952-1954; and a member of the editorial board of Ichthyologica, 1966.
Myers participated on several scientific expeditions. In 1938, he served as ichthyologist on the Hancock Pacific Expedition aboard the Velero III. During the trip he collected fishes off the coasts of Mexico, the Cocos Islands, the Galapagos Islands, Peru, Ecuador, and Panama. Later that year, he was co-leader of the Crocker Deep-Sea Expedition off the coast of California. In 1947, Myers participated in the United States Navy's Bikini Scientific Resurvey conducting field work on Bikini and Rongerik atolls. In addition, he executed several field surveys in the United States and South America.
Myers was active within the ichthyological profession and served several organizations in elected or appointed capacities. He was President of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists from 1949 to 1951. He also served on numerous committees of the society. From 1945 to 1951, Myers was a vice-president and council member of the California Academy of Sciences. He was named Research Associate in Ichthyology and Herpetology at the Academy in 1970. Myers was a corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London and an honorary fellow of the Zoological Society of India. In 1936, he was awarded the silver medal of the Societe National d'Acclimation, Paris.
For additional biographical information on Myers see, Lionel A. Walford, "On the Natural History of George Sprague Myers" in "Festschrift for George Sprague Myers," Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, 1970, vol. 38, no. 1, pp 1-18; Daniel M. Cohen and Stanley H. Weitzman, "George Sprague Myers, 1905-1985," Copeia, 1986, no. 3, pp. 851-853; Alan E. Leviton, David C. Regnery, and John H. Thomas, "Memorial Resolution: George Sprague Myers, 1905-1985," The Stanford University Campus Report, 6 April 1986; and Martin R. Brittan, "In Memoriam: George Sprague Myers, 1905-1985," Tropical Fish Hobbyist, March 1986, pp. 84-86.