Smith, Sidney Irving

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(b. Norway. Maine, 18 February 1843; d. New Haven, Connecticut, 6 May 1926)


Smith’s parents, Elliot Smith and Lavinia Barton, were of old New England families, and he spent his life studying the fauna of New England. His first work in natural history, a collection of the insects of Maine, was so comprehensive that Agassiz purchased it for Harvard. In 1864 Smith went to the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale to work with Addison E. Verrill. He graduated in 1867 and was then appointed assistant in zoology. As an undergraduate he started his life’s work on the little-known subject of marine invertebrates. Spending all his summers on dredging expeditions and afterward identifying the collected specimens, he soon specialized in Crustacea. In 1875 he was appointed first professor of comparative anatomy in the same department of zoology, where he remained until his retirement in 1906. He married Eugenia P. Barber in 1882.

Expeditions in which Smith was involved were first those in which he was working with Verrill between 1864 and 1870 to Long Island Sound and the Bay of Fundy. He was zoologist to the U.S. Lake Survey in 1871, studying the deeper parts of Lake Superior, The following year he joined the U.S. Coast Survey, went to St. George’s Bank (Newfoundland), and became a member of the U.S. Fish Commission. He was at Kerguelen Island in 1876, and he dredged off the New England coast with the Fish Hawk in 1880 and the Albatross (mainly in deep water) in 1883. He did little scientific work thereafter.

The value of Smith’s work was the large volume of careful identification and description, with accurate drawings, and some observations of behavior, of many species of aquatic Crustacea, hitherto little studied. He discovered many new species and genera, and worked out their relationships. He also collected extensive data on distribution, including bathymetric distribution, and found that deepsea samples often contained known species not previously found at great depths, as well as new species.

The large number of available specimens, carefully ordered, allowed Smith to trace the developmental stages of many crustacean larvae formerly-thought to be different species from their adult forms. His early papers on the North American lobster are models, and later work on other species threw new light on their relationships. Implications of the details found and generalizations about the group did not come easily to Smith. He never wrote a monograph on the Crustacea, and comments on the size, structure, color, form of eye, and breeding habits of the deep-sea Crustacea collected by the Albatross were made by Verrill.

Smith’s excellent collections of preserved specimens were given to the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale and to the National Museum of Natural History (Washington. D.C.). He was active in the foundation of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Smith had a number of minor professional interests. His first published work in 1864 was on the fertilization of orchids, but he did not continue this work. In 1868 he was awarded the Berzelius Prize at Vale for an essay on the geographical distribution of animals, which was concerned largely with fossil forms. He never lost his early interest in entomology. He wrote an occasional paper in the field and was for a time state entomologist of Maine and Connecticut. Smith was also an enthusiastic teacher and started one of the first courses in biology for premedical students.


I. Original Works. Smith’s most important work.”The Metamorphosis of the Lobster, and Other Crustacea,“is in A. E. Verrill, “Report of the Invertebrate Animals of Vineyard Sound and the Adjacent Waters,” in Report of the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, 1871/72, Supplementary paper 18.2 (1873), 522–537. A fuller account of the development of the lobster is “The Early Stages of the American Lobster (Homarus Americanus Edwards),” in Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2 (1873), 351–381.

Other papers describing new species, and lists of Crustacea from the various expeditions were published in later Reports of the Commission of fish and Fisheries, the Bulletin and the Proceedings of the United StatesNational Museum, Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, and American Journal of Science. They can he traced through the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers, VIII , 974–975; XI , 440–441; XII , 690; XVIII , 814; or the bibliography of Coe(see below).

II. Secondary Literature. The best account of Smith is Wesley R. Coe, in Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences. 14 (1932), 3–16, with a portrait. There is also an obituary by Smith’s colleague A. E. Verrill, in Science, 64 (1926). 57–58. For the background to Smith’s work at Yale, see R. H. Chittenden, History of the Sheffield Scientific School, Yale, 2 vols. (New Haven, 1928).

Diana M. Simpkins

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Smith, Sidney Irving

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