Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Alexander Emanuel Agassiz
He was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, and came to the United States with his father in 1846. He graduated at Harvard in 1855, subsequently studying engineering and chemistry, and taking the degree of bachelor of science at the Lawrence scientific school of the same institution in 1857; and in 1859 became an assistant in the United States Coast Survey.
Thenceforward he became a specialist in marine ichthyology, but devoted much time to the investigation, superintendence and exploitation of mines. E. J. Hulbert , a friend of Agassiz's brother-in-law, Quincy Adams Shaw , had discovered a rich copper lode known as the Calumet conglomerate on the Keweenaw Peninsula Lake Superior in Michigan. He persuaded them, along with a group of friends, to purchase a controlling interest in the mines, which later became known as the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company based in Calumet, Michigan. Up until the summer of 1866, Agassiz worked as an assistant in the museum of natural history that his father founded at Harvard. That summer, he took a trip to see the mines for himself and he afterwards became treasurer of the enterprise.
Over the winter of 1866 and early 1867, mining operations began to falter due to the difficulty of extracting copper from the conglomerate. Hulbert had sold his interests in the mines and had moved on to other ventures. But Agassiz refused to give up hope for the mines, and he returned to the mines in March of 1867 with his wife and young son. At that time, Keweenaw Peninsula was a remote settlement, virtually inaccessible during the winter and very far removed from civilization even during the summer. With insufficient supplies at the mines, Agassiz struggled to maintain order, while back in Boston, Shaw was saddled with debt and the collapse of their interests. Shaw obtained financial assistance from John Simpkins, the selling agent for the enterprise to continue operations.
Agassiz continued to live at Calumet, making gradual progess in stablizing the mining operations, such that he was able to leave the mines under the control of a general manager and return to Boston in 1868 before winter closed navigation.
The mines continued to prosper and in May, 1871, several mines were consolidated to form the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company with Shaw as its first president. In August, 1871, Shaw "retired" to the board of directors and Agassiz became president, a position he held until his death.
Agassiz was a major factor in the mines continued success and visited the mines twice a year. He innovated by installing a giant engine, known as the Superior, which was able to lift 24 tons of rock from a depth of 4,000 feet. He also built a railroad and dredged a channel to navigable waters. However, after a time the mines did not require his full-time year-round attention and he returned to his interests in natural history at Harvard.
Out of his copper fortune, he gave some $500,000 to Harvard for the museum of comparative zoology and other purposes.
In 1875 he surveyed Lake Titicaca, Peru, examined the copper mines of Peru and Chile, and made a collection of Peruvian antiquities for the Museum of Comparative Zoology , of which he was curator from 1874 to 1885. He assisted Sir Wyville Thomson in the examination and classification of the collections of the Challenger exploring expedition, and wrote the Review of the Echini (2 vols., 1872–1874) in the reports.
Of his other writings on marine zoology, most are contained in the bulletins and memoirs of the museum of comparative zoology; but he published in 1865 (with Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, his step-mother) Seaside Studies in Natural History, a work at once exact and stimulating, and in 1871 Marine Animals of Massachusetts Bay.
He served as a president of the National Academy of Sciences.
- (with Elizabeth Cary Agassiz) Seaside Studies in Natural History (1865)
- Marine Animals of Massachusetts Bay (1871)
- Revision of the Echini (2 vols., 1872–1874)
- Explorations of Lake Titicaca
- List of the Echinoderms
- Three Cruises of the Blake (1888)
- Pacific Coral Reefs
- Coral Reefs of the Maldives
- Panamic Deep Sea Echini
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