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Department ofVertebrate Zoology

Division of Fishes

Spencer F. Baird
Spencer F. Baird circa 1875
© Smithsonian Institution

George Brown Goode (1851-1896)

George Brown Goode is best remembered today as a museum administrator, historian of science, and ichthyologist. After meeting Spencer Baird in 1872, he quickly won Baird's confidence, becoming his trusted assistant and colleague. In that capacity, Goode supervised the summer research activities sponsored by the U.S. Fish Commission; took charge of the Smithsonian displays at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (1876), and the Fisheries Exhibitions in Berlin (1880) and London (1883); and served as the Curator of the U.S. National Museum. Despite his remarkable effectiveness in administration, he saw himself as a scientist and admitted that he knew more about "fish and fishing in America" than about anything else.

G. Brown Goode
G. Brown Goode
©Smithsonian Institution

G. Brown Goode was born in New Albany, Indiana, on 13 February 1851. After his mother died only a year and a half later, his father remarried and in 1857 moved his family to Amenia, New York. Young George did not attend schools but was educated by private tutors until he entered Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1866. After graduating in 1870, he briefly attended Harvard University, where he studied under Louis Agassiz. The following year, he left Harvard to return to Wesleyan to take charge of its new natural history museum.

During the summer of 1872, Goode worked as a volunteer for the U. S. Fish Commission in Eastport, Maine, and there he met Spencer Baird. The meeting turned out fortuitously for both men. Baird found his greatest protégé and closest assistant, and Goode was set on the path of his life's work. For the next five years, Goode spent his summers doing field work with the Fish Commission and divided his winters between Wesleyan and the Smithsonian. In 1877, he left Wesleyan and joined the Smithsonian full time, first as an assistant curator and later, curator. After the United States National Museum was formally established in 1879, Goode became its Assistant Director. In 1887 he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian, and assumed full responsibility for the National Museum following Baird's death.

Like Baird, Goode was a man of many and varied talents. Much of his career was spent as an administrator, a task at which he excelled. Goode was a fervent advocate of science, which he believed had the potential to improve the life of all citizens. For Goode, there was no distinction between pure and applied science; the increase of knowledge and the application of its benefits were inseparable. He was also a great believer in the diffusion of scientific knowledge to the general public, for which the museum was a primary vehicle. He wrote extensively on the theory and practice of building and running museums and became probably the foremost museologist of his time. He organized many special, off-site exhibits, including the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, and the great Fisheries Expositions in Berlin in 1880, and London in 1883. (See Exhibitions.)

Considering his many administrative responsibilities, it is remarkable that he was able to do any research at all, but he was a consistent and productive scientist. Goode maintained an interest in all manner of animals and plants and published on reptiles, birds, mammals, and crustaceans. Fishes were always his first and greatest love, however. His first substantial scientific publication was Catalog of the Fishes of the Bermudas (1876), written after a visit to that island. He retained an interest in Bermuda and continually added to the record of fishes known from there. His work on Bermuda fishes later formed the basis for a Ph.D. degree, granted by Indiana University, Bloomington, in 1886. This early work may also have stimulated his life-long interest in the geographic distribution of fishes. Goode wrote both long and short papers on fishes. Many of his systematic papers were written in collaboration with his Smithsonian colleague, Tarleton H. Bean. It was a most productive partnership; the ichthyological team of Goode and Bean turned out nearly 40 papers, climaxing in the monumental Oceanic Ichthyology, published only shortly before Goode's death. His solitary publications tended toward monographic works, in which he covered nearly all aspects of particular fishes or groups of fishes. His 1879 publication, The Natural and Economical History of the American Menhaden, is a prime example. In connection with the 1880 Census, Goode directed a complete survey of the state of American fisheries. The results were published in 7 large volumes, The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States (1884-87). Goode summarized his vast knowledge of fishes in American Fishes (1888), a popular treatise on game and food fishes of North America. It is evident here that Goode was not only an outstanding scientist, but a fine writer as well. Goode never slowed down. At the time of his death, he was working on a treatise on the geographic distribution of deep-sea fishes. In addition, he and Theodore Gill were planning a book on the fishes of America, for which they had already assembled extensive material.

Goode was also profoundly interested in history, especially in the history and development of science in America. Among these works are such titles as "The Beginnings of Natural History in America" (1886), "The Beginnings of American Science" (1886), and "The Origins of the National Scientific and Educational Institutions of the United States" (1890). He spent the two summers prior to his death, working on the 'Half Century Book' of the Smithsonian, which was published posthumously: The Smithsonian Institution 1846-1896 (1897). He produced bibliographies of a number of American naturalists, and at the time of his death was preparing a complete bibliography of ichthyology, including a list of all the named genera and species. He also found time to write a 526-page family history, titled Virginia Cousins (1887). He was a founder of the American Historical Association.

He married Sarah Lamson Ford Judd, the daughter of a well-known publisher and founder of the natural history museum at Wesleyan University, where Goode started his career as a museum administrator. The marriage was a happy one and produced four children. Goode was never a man of vigorous health. As early as 1876 he suffered a physical collapse following his efforts on behalf of the Centennial events. He compounded his problems by being a heavy smoker. In the summer of 1896, Goode contracted pneumonia. In an age before antibiotics or any of the now-standard treatments, and weakened by years of cigarette smoking, he could not fight off the infection. He died in his home in Washington on 6 September 1896, at the age of 45.

G. Brown Goode, like Spencer Baird, was a man for whom no one ever had a harsh word. He was universally liked and respected. His personal character, the care he took in his work, and his professional ethics were of the highest order. His legacy was immense, and we can only wonder what else he might have achieved had he lived a normal life span. His death left a void at the Smithsonian, and with the departure of Tarleton Bean the year before, research in ichthyology came to a standstill. There was simply no one who could take Goode's place. It would be forty years before ichthyology at the Smithsonian would begin to regain the level of production it had enjoyed during the tenure of George Brown Goode.

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