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William Charles Schroeder papers

 Record Group
Identifier: MC-02

Scope and Content Note

The William C. Schroeder papers consist of three cartons and one document box of materials that span the years 1887-1981, with the bulk dating from 1933 to 1967. Materials consist of correspondence, invoices and purchase orders, diaries, notes, designs and drawings, travel orders, newspaper clippings, school notebooks, photographs, film negatives, lantern slides, instruments, and artifacts.

The bulk of the material consists of business records for Schroeder’s extensive plankton net business and reflects the extent and high demand for nets from a wide range of customers. Business records cover Schroeder’s dealings, for example, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Navy, an ichthyological project, research cruise to Cuba, manufacturing companies, and universities. There is also personal and professional correspondence covering areas of interest to Schroeder such as cod tagging, shark attacks, red crabs, and a Cuban trip, and documenting his relationship with WHOI, Henry B. Bigelow and Roman Vishniac. There are several folders documenting Schroeder’s appointments and work with the Bureau of Fisheries (box 2 ff. 16-19); a letter of commendation from Herbert Hoover (box 2, f.26); and letters from Schroeder’s father, known as “ Pop Schroeder,” who was then Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds at WHOI (box 2, f. 31). General correspondence includes ichthyological discussions between Schroeder and the scientific and commercial fishing community as well as personal letters. Some photographs are interfiled with correspondence where appropriate. Other material consists of biographical and bibliographic material and personal memorabilia.

Non-business files include Schroeder’s addendi to Fishes of the Gulf of Maine, 1953; publications by or of interest to Schroeder; notes and reports on various fish and cruises; publicity about Schroeder; honors, primarily from Harvard; photographs; and personal family records including school books and drawings dated 1904-1906. There are wolf fish teeth, an award from the Geographic Society of Cuba, and 31 lantern slides that appear to have been taken on Atlantis , cruise 74 to Cuba.


  • 1887-1981

Language of Materials

The records are in



Open: materials are available for research.


Copyright: Permission to publish material from the collection must be authorized by the Institution Archivist.

Biographical Information

William Charles Schroeder (1895 - 1977) was born January 10 on Staten Island, New York to William Schroeder and Emma (Caffrey) Schroeder. He married Adah Jensen in 1916 and had two children, William Herbert Schroeder and Gloria M. (Mrs. William F. Gallagher). Schroeder studied at George Washington University (1922-1923) and Harvard University (1924-1931).

William Schroeder devoted his career to a study of the ichthyofauna of the western North Atlantic. His association with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution began as business manager from 1932 to 1952, ichthyologist from 1952 to 1968, and senior scientist from 1964 to 1968. He retired from WHOI on December 31, 1968. From 1917 to 1932, prior to his work at WHOI, he was associated with the US Bureau of Fisheries as fish culturist from 1917 to 1919, scientific assistant from 1919 to 1923, and aquatic biologist from 1924 to 1932. During his time at WHOI, he also held several positions at Harvard, as associate curator of fishes from 1936 to 1960, research ichthyologist from 1960 to 1961, and honorary associate in Ichthyology in 1961.

Schroeder’s earliest scientific training derived from courses in botany and biology in high school. Due to an early interest in ichthyology, Schroeder opened a business on a large pleasure fishing boat for four years, during which time he was able to study closely the habits of certain fish. He maintained a daily record of his observations; however, these and other notes and clippings were destroyed in a fire in Fairport, Iowa. He tried to interest other fishermen to study fish more scientifically and wrote several articles to that effect in the New York Press and New York Sun.

In September 1917, at age 22, Schroeder joined the Bureau of Fisheries, where he was in charge of fish rescue and mussel Glochidia operations in the upper Mississippi River. In 1919 he was promoted and transferred from Fairport, Iowa to Key West, Florida. Until 1920 he was involved with fish and fisheries of the area and the clam population and canning industry of southern Florida. Schroeder’s work brought him in contact with the spiny lobster and commercial fishes. In 1920 he served as acting chief of the Division of Scientific Inquiry, US Bureau of Fisheries. From 1921-1922 he conducted a survey of the fish and fisheries of Chesapeake Bay, and from 1923-1932 studied migrations and other phases in the life histories of the cod, haddock and pollock. His first papers in 1920 and 1924 dealt with the clam industry and fisheries of southern Florida.

In 1932 Schroeder left the Bureau of Fisheries and joined the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as its business manager. Schroeder wrote to Carl Hubbs, then at the Museum of Zoology in Ann Arbor, Michigan, about his new position at WHOI:

The offer came to me a few months ago as a complete surprise for altho[ugh] I have been close to Bigelow for some years he had never intimated that he was considering such a position in his institution. Now that I am taking hold I am wondering how he was able to get along so long on his own…for there is plenty to keep one busy. 1

In addition to his role as business manager, Schroeder continued his scientific work. From 1935-1937, he and Henry Bigelow conducted experiments on the effect of temperature on the growth of cod. He also participated in deep-sea zoological explorations around Cuba aboard Atlantis from 1938-1939, and from 1948-1954 around Bermuda and along the Atlantic shelf and slope. While at the Institution, he responded to the need for custom-made plankton nets and with his wife began a business as a designer and maker of nets, which they operated out of the home basement. They supplied these nets to a wide range of scientists and commercial fishermen from the early 1930s to the late 1960s, when he transferred the business to relatives, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest A. Case, in Andover, NJ. Schroeder retired from WHOI in 1968.

His first publication, solely on fishes and co-authored with his lifelong collaborator and friend, Henry B. Bigelow in 1927, dealt with the sharks and skates of the northwest Atlantic ( Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, 68(5): 2329-251). The classic Fishes of the Chesapeake Bay, by Samuel F. Hildebrand and Schroeder, followed in 1928. Between 1928-1968 he wrote over 53 notes and papers, either alone or in collaboration with others, primarily Bigelow, with whom he worked on various phases of fisheries research. His most substantial works included his study of the cod ( Bulletin of the Bureau of Fisheries 46: 1-136, 1930), and his guide to Caribbean commercial shark fishing (1945). In 1948 he and Bigelow produced the sections on cyclostomes and sharks for Part one of Fishes of the Western North Atlantic; Part Two, comprising sections on sawfishes, guitarfishes, skates, rays, and chimaeroids, appeared in 1953. Schroeder and Bigelow also produced the indispensable Fishes of the Gulf of Maine in 1953. With Bigelow, he described one new family, seven genera, and 42 new species from among the cyclostomes, elasmobranchs, and chimaeroids. This revision of the 1925 book by Bigelow and William Welsh, however, took twenty years to get published.

The story of the Gulf of Maine fish book to Dr. Bigelow and I is a tragedy. Since 1924 when the original work appeared we have been collecting data, not only published but also original stuff obtained on various Halycon and Albatross II cruises. We then spent the best part of a year thoroughly revising the first edition and finally, in January 1932, completed this report and forwarded it to Washington. We had been told that there was a good demand for the book and that no more copies were available. Soon after we sent the manuscript along we were told that there were insufficient fund for publishing it. We then scraped around and felt that we had found the necessary money when like a bomb-shell the Bureau of Fisheries informed us that they had found a packing case, heretofore unopened, which contained 700 copies of the 1924 edition. So that ended our ideas for publishing the new edition, for the present at least… (letter to Carl Hubbs, June 7 1932) 2

It has been said of Bill Schroeder that he neither looked nor acted as if he were important. Cape Cod fishermen accepted him as an equal, and scientists named eight new species after him: a mollusk (Clench and Agayo, 1938), a crustacean (Chase, 1939), an anchovy (Hildebrand, 1943), a carp (H.W. Smith, 1945), a freshwater ray (Fernandez-Yepez, 1960), a sawshark (Springer and Bullis, 1960), a bathyclupeid (Dick, 1962), and a genus of cat sharks, Schroedericthys (Springer, 1966). Mary Sears, former WHOI scientist, wrote Adah Schroeder about her late husband:

…You know how much I admired Bill’s work. His job was several jobs – all carried on with infinite patience and accuracy – all of which could have been considered full time jobs especially by today’s standards. With Dr. Bigelow as an example and also by nature it would not have been like Bill to think that he was overworked! 3

In 1981, in recognition of his contributions to ichthyology and to the department, the Fish Department of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University dedicated its library to the memory of William Charles Schroeder. Schroeder also received the Gold Medal by the Geographic Society of Cuba in 1940. He was a member of the Society of Systematic Zoologists, the Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and an Honorary Fellow of the Academy of Zoology, India.

  1. 1 See box 3, folder 5, “Correspondence-WHOI employment, 1932-1969.”
  2. 2 Ibid.
  3. 3 Condolence letter to Adah Schroeder from Mary Sears, 21 August, 1978. Box 3, f.17.


4 boxes (5 linear feet)


The William C. Schroeder papers consist of business records for Schroeder’s plankton net business, correspondence, and personal and family papers, dating from 1887-1981.


The collection is organized into six series:

Custodial History

William and Gloria (Schroeder) Gallagher, William C. Schroeder’s daughter, gave the materials to Bob Livingston, who donated the collection to the WHOI Archives in the 1980s and 1998.

Acquisitions Information

Bob Livingston donated the collection to the WHOI Archives in two accessions: in the 1980s, and the remainder in 1998 (accession 98-22). In addition, former accession document box #85-1 was integrated into the collection. Material in the acc2005-07 series was donated by Karson Hartel on January 28, 2005.

Related Material

Further information on William C. Schroeder may be found in the WHOI Biographical files. Additional photographs by or of Schroeder are in the Atlantis photo collection ( Cuba, 1937 Cruise), and the Jan Hahn Negative Collection. There is material in the records of the Office of the Directors, specifically in the correspondence and subject files ( H. B. Bigelow and C.O. D. Iselin), as well as in Iselin’s personal papers before 1940. There is also considerable correspondence between Captain Fred S. McMurray and Bill Schroeder (acc. box #82-34). Related material may also be found at the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

Separated Material

Only a fraction of the Business Records invoices were retained as samples of Schroeder’s work.

A photograph of Schroeder and Henry Bigelow was placed in Schroeder’s Biographical file, and a Taylor Minimum Registering Thermometer, a portable microscope and netting materials were added to the archives historical instrument collection.

Processing Information

Second-level processing completed by Brenda Rocklage and Margot Garritt. Paper clips and staples were removed and papers were put in acid-free folders and boxes. Photographs and negatives were placed in archival sleeves. Newspaper clippings were copied onto acid free paper before being discarded. The plankton netting materials were folded and boxed, and stored with the instrument collection. Material in the acc2005-07 series was processed by Werner Deuser in July 2013.

A Guide to the the William Charles Schroeder papers, 1887-1981
Brenda Rocklage and Margot B. Garritt
August 1996, revised October 1998
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written inEnglish

Repository Details

Part of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Data Library and Archives Repository