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Spencer Baird and Ichthyology at the Smithsonian
William P. Trowbridge (1828-1892)
Although the name of William Trowbridge is not generally associated with the development of natural history collections, he contributed a significant collection of fishes to the Smithsonian. In the Annual Report for 1854, Spencer Baird acknowledged the importance of the Trowbridge collection, which had added "some fifty new fishes alone to the North American fauna." This is a good example of how individuals not affiliated with the Smithsonian or without being appointed naturalist to an organized government expedition aided the development of ichthyology at the Smithsonian. In August 1854, Charles Girard presented a paper, "Observations upon a collection of fishes made on the Pacific coast of the United States by Lieutenant W.P. Trowbridge, for the museum of the Smithsonian Institution," at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
A native of Troy, New York, Trowbridge entered the United States Military Academy at the age of 16 and graduated in 1848. He prepared himself for service in the United States Coast Survey, and his first assignment involved the exploration of the Atlantic Coast, in particular the Appomattox and James Rivers in Virginia. From 1853 to 1856, he was stationed along the Pacific Coast, conducting astronomical, tidal, meteorological, and magnetic investigations from San Diego to Puget Sound. While on the west coast, he participated in the Williamson and Abbott expedition of the Pacific Railroad Surveys. In 1857, he became assistant superintendent of the Coast Survey, and during the Civil War he assumed responsibility for the army engineering unit supplying materials for Union fortifications. While involved in coastal survey work, he devised an instrument for determining ocean depths and obtaining specimens from the bottom. In 1865 he became the vice-president of Novelty Iron Works in New York City. From 1871 to 1877, he served as professor of dynamic engineering at Yale University, and from 1877 until his death in 1892 as professor of engineering at Columbia University. He was an active member of the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Academy of Sciences.
Two Pacific coast fishes, the surfperch Helconotus trowbridgii Girard, 1854 and the whiting Homalopomus trowbridgii, Girard, 1856, were named after William Trowbridge.
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