The Henry Bryant Bigelow Digital Collection

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Henry Bryant Bigelow (October 3, 1879 – December 11, 1967) was an American oceanographer and marine biologist. He was the first director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a professor of zoology at Harvard University, as well as the curator of oceanography at the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

He was born in Boston, Massachusetts on October 3, 1879 to Mary Cleveland Bryant and Joseph Smith Bigelow. After attending Milton Academy, he studied at Harvard College, earning his AB in 1901, AM in 1904, and PhD in 1906. On August 14, 1906, Bigelow married Elizabeth Perkins Shattuck. The couple had 4 children, and Elizabeth Bigelow accompanied her husband on many of his research trips throughout his career.

Bigelow began at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1906 and continued there until 1962. He began as a lecturer at Harvard in 1921 and became a full professor in 1931. In total, Bigelow served on Harvard’s faculty for 62 years.

While serving as the secretary of the Committee on Oceanography of the National Academy of Sciences in 1929, Bigelow wrote about the need for oceanographic research, with an emphasis on an integrated study of the physics, chemistry, and biology of the sea. This report led to the establishment of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution the following year in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Bigelow was chosen as the institution’s first director, a position he held from 1930 to 1939.

Bigelow was a recognized authority on coelenterates and fishes, especially sharks and rays. He published widely throughout his career, including more than 17 books and papers in collaboration with William C. Schroeder, Columbus Iselin, Mary Sears and others.

Henry Bryant Bigelow died on December 11, 1967.

The Henry Bryant Bigelow Digital Collection is composed of selections from his manuscript collection and an audio recording from the library’s audiovisual collection of a speech Bigelow gave in 1955.


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