Icthyology's Golden Age

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

the Maumee River on its way to Lake Erie.

Rivers and the teeming life they sustain captivated him. He wasn't far into his studies at Indiana University when he became fascinated with ichthyology, the branch of zoology dealing with fish. It appears that it was at Indiana University where the lives of the three scientists converged. Meek and Gilbert were students there when Jordan served as head of the department of natural science.

Jordan was the dominant figure of his day in the study of fish. He was a large man best remembered for his intellect, drive and keen memory and for the sheer force of his personality. The New York native also possessed an uncanny knack for distinguishing similar looking species of fish. This talent was surely an advantage in the study of Missouri's many darters and other fish.

He was a prolific researcher, generating well over 600 publications-single scientific papers to weighty texts-about fish over the span of half a century. Scientific folklore has it that Jordan dictated from memory most of his two-volume Guide to the Study of Fishes-all while serving as president of Stanford University.

Jordan and Gilbert published a 1,000-page volume on the fish of North America. Jordan went on to co-author The Fishes of North and Middle America, which was based on his work and that of his many associates. This undertaking was so great that its 3,000 pages were published in a series of four volumes from 1896 to 1900.

Jordan had scores of students and scientific associates, including Meek, but Gilbert was for many years his chief collaborator. A native of Illinois, he complemented Jordan with his preciseness and critical thinking. In time, Jordan would entice Gilbert out west to Stanford University, where he would head up the zoology department.

After his work in Missouri, Meek took a position as professor of biology and geology at Arkansas Industrial University (University of Arkansas). He went on to become assistant curator of zoology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, a post he held until his death in 1914.

To truly appreciate their contributions, you must flip back the pages in the annals of history and science. Publication dates for their scientific papers place the three together or separately in Missouri from about 1884 to 1889. Settlers had by then spread over a large portion of the Missouri Ozarks, where the biologists did most of their research, but much

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