Gustav Arthur Cooper (1902-2000), was a invertebrate paleobiologist in the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), specializing in the taxonomy and stratigraphy of Paleozoic brachiopods. He began collecting natural history specimens and minerals during his youth in New York. He received the B.S. degree from Colgate University in 1924 with a major in chemistry and the M.S. degree in 1926. He continued graduate work at Yale University with Drs. Carl O. Dunbar and Charles Schuchert, and was awarded the Ph.D. in 1929 for his thesis on the stratigraphy of the Hamilton formation. Under Schuchert's direction, he began research on fossil brachiopods, his life's work. While at Yale, he served as an Assistant Curator (1928-1929) and Research Associate (1929-1930) in the Department of Invertebrate Paleontology of the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
In 1930, Cooper was appointed Assistant Curator in the Division of Stratigraphic Paleontology of the United States National Museum (USNM). In 1941, he advanced to Associate Curator and in 1944 to Curator of the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology. He assumed the Head Curatorship of the Department of Geology in 1957, and oversaw its division into separate departments of Paleobiology and Mineral Sciences in 1963. He continued as Chairman of the Department of Paleobiology until he was appointed Senior Paleobiologist in 1967. After his retirement from federal service in 1974, he continued his research as Paleobiologist Emeritus.
Cooper was known for his research on the taxonomy and stratigraphy of Paleozoic brachiopods. His major monographs include Ozarkian and Canadian Brachiopoda (1938 with E. O. Ulrich), Chazyan and Related Brachiopods (1956), Morphology, Classification, and Life Habits of Productoids (Brachiopoda) (1960 with Helen M. Muir-Wood), and Permian Brachiopods of West Texas, vols. 1-6 (1969-1977 with Richard E. Grant). He conducted field work in the United States, Canada, or Mexico virtually every year of his career at the USNM, significantly increasing both the range and depth of the national collections. Under his guidance, an acid-etching laboratory was established for work with silicified fossils, notably Permian brachiopods from the Glass Mountains in Texas. He also developed his own photographic laboratory, producing over fifty thousand images from the collections.
As an administrator, Cooper presided over a ten-fold increase in the paleobiology curatorial staff, from two in 1944 to twenty in 1967. He was the driving force behind the split of the Department of Geology into two separate departments in 1963. He also planned and supervised the move into the new wings of the Natural History Building (NHB) in 1963-1965.
Among the many honors bestowed upon him are the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America in 1983, the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 1979, the Paleontological Society Medal in 1964, and the Mary Clark Thompson Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 1958.