Smithsonian Institution Archives

George Sprague Myers Papers, circa 1903-1986 and undated


Collection ID:
Myers, George S. (George Sprague), 1905-1985
circa 1903-1986 and undated
Physical Description:
32.19 cu. ft. (63 document boxes) (1 16x20 box) (1 oversize folder)
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Descriptive Entry

Descriptive Entry
The papers of George Sprague Myers provide extensive documentation of his research career in ichthyology and herpetology. The collection also offers substantial information concerning the development of Myers' interest in natural history; his college work at Indiana University and Stanford University; his teaching career at Stanford University and to a lesser extent Harvard University; his work as a part-time ichthyologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service; his activities in professional organizations and at international scientific symposia and conferences; his participation on scientific expeditions and field trips; and his work as an author and editor. Less well represented in the collection is material documenting Myers' brief curatorial career at the United States National Museum (USNM). Researchers interested in this aspect of his work should consult the records of the Division of Fishes, USNM (Record Units 213 and 234), in the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Myers maintained an extensive correspondence, and the bulk of his papers consists of letters written and received between 1920 and 1984. The correspondence illustrates most aspects of his career but is especially valuable in documenting his research interests and his activities in professional organizations. Myers exchanged letters with many of the outstanding zoologists of his era, and the correspondence is a valuable source for documenting the history of twentieth-century ichthyology and herpetology. The letters also reflect the breadth of his research interests. Many contain his thoughts on evolution, biogeography, zoological nomenclature, and the history of science. Myers' long association with the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists is well-documented in his correspondence, and it is an important source for those interested in the history of the society. His network of correspondents was world-wide, and several letters provide information on political and social events. Of special interest are letters describing the effect of World War II on European science and museums.
The remainder of the collection primarily consists of materials relating to Myers' zoological research and his teaching career at Stanford University. A large file of manuscripts and speeches (many of which are unpublished) not only documents the preparation of scientific papers, but also reveals Myers as a writer with diverse interests. Included are manuscripts dealing with general history, history of science, botany, biogeography, and museum theory. Also included in the collection are numerous notes, publications, and illustrations used in his research.
Myers' thirty-four-year teaching career at Stanford University is partially documented in the collection. Materials include correspondence with university officials, staff, and programs; administrative records concerning the operation of the Biology Department and Natural History Museum; classroom material used by Myers; and correspondence with graduate students under his guidance. Researchers should also consult the general correspondence for information concerning his career at Stanford.
Of particular interest is a group of collected materials relating to various aspects of Myers' professional career and personal life. Included are materials concerning his high school and college work; records documenting professional activities, official travel, and disputes with colleagues; personal memorabilia; and miscellaneous biographical, bibliographical, and family materials. Especially important is a small amount of papers illustrating his early interest and work in the biological sciences. Included is a catalogue of natural history specimens collected by Myers up to 1923; a notebook containing drafts of papers and field notes recorded by Myers in the 1920s; and notes, manuscripts, and illustrations from his work on aquarium fishes, circa 1920-1925.
A small group of photographs is found in the collection. Included are portraits of Myers; photographs of Myers with colleagues and at social occasions; and pictures he collected. A few photographs are also present in his correspondence and research materials.
The collection also includes diplomas, certificates, and awards presented to Myers by professional organizations and social groups.

Historical Note

Historical Note
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.


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Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7317, George Sprague Myers Papers

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Myers, George S. (George Sprague), 1905-1985 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Stanford University Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
United States National Museum. Division of Fishes Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Bikini Scientific Resurvey, 1947 Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
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