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Vogt, William (1902 – 1968) American Ecologist and Ornithologist

William Vogt (1902 1968)
American ecologist and ornithologist

An ecologist and ornithologist whose work has influenced many disciplines, William Vogt was born in 1902 in Mineola, New York. Convalescing from a childhood illness, Vogt became a voracious reader, consuming the works of poets, playwrights, and naturalists. One naturalist in particular, Ernest Thompson Seton, greatly influenced him, cultivating his interest in ornithology. Vogt graduated with honors in 1925 from St. Stephens (now Bard) College in New York, where he had studied romance languages, edited the school literary magazine, and won prizes for his poetry.

After receiving his degree, Vogt worked for two years as assistant editor at the New York Academy of Sciences, and he went on to act as curator of the Jones Beach State Bird Sanctuary from 1933 to 1935. As field naturalist and lecturer at the National Association of Audubon Societies from 1935 to 1939, he edited Bird Lore magazine and contributed articles to other related professional periodicals. Perhaps his most important efforts while with the association were his compilation of Thirst for Land, which discussed the urgent need for water conservation , and his editing of the classic Birds of America.

Vogt's chief accomplishment, however, was to make the world more fully aware of the imbalanced relationship between the rapidly growing world population and the food supply. He developed a strong interest in Latin America in the late 1930s. During World War II he acted as a consultant to the United States government on the region, and in 1942 he traveled to Chile to conduct a series of climatological studies, during which he began to realize the full scope of the depletion of natural resources and its consequences for world population. As he complied the results of his studies, Vogt became increasingly interested in the relationship between the environment and both human and bird populations. He was appointed chief of the conservation section of the Pan American Union in 1943, and he remained at this post until 1950, working to disseminate information on and develop solutions for the problems he had identified.

Vogt's popularity soared in 1948 when he published Road to Survival, which closely examined the discrepancy between the world population and food supplies. A bestseller, the book was eventually translated into nine languages. It was also a major influence on Paul R. Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb and a key proponent of zero population growth theories.

Following the publication of Road to Survival, Vogt won Fulbright and Guggenheim grants to study population trends and problems in Scandinavia. Soon after returning to the United States, he was appointed national director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, an organization wholly concerned with limiting population growth .

During the last seven years of his life, Vogt again turned his attentions to conservationism, and he became secretary of the Conservation Foundation, an organization created to "initiate and advance research and education in the entire field of conservation," which was recently absorbed by the World Wildlife Fund . Vogt died in New York City on July 11, 1968.

[Kimberley A. Peterson ]



Squire, C. B. Heroes of Conservation. New York: Fleet Press, 1974. Vogt, W. Road to Survival. New York: W. Sloane Associates, 1948.

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