Celebrating 100 Years
Leonard Peter Schultz (1901-1986):
Ichthyologist and Field Naturalist
Leonard Peter Schultz (1901-1986) was born in Albion, Michigan. He came to the Smithsonian in 1936, and remained until his retirement in 1968, overseeing tremendous growth and changes in the Division of Fishes. Like so many of the National Museum of Natural History’s curators, he focused early in his life on natural history collecting. Use the player at right to listen to Schultz talk about his childhood moth collections, and how they ruined his mother’s curtains.
He received his A.B. degree from Albion College in 1924, his M.S. from the University of Michigan in 1926, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 1932. Before accepting the position of assistant curator of fishes in the United States National Museum in 1936, Schultz taught at the University of Michigan, between 1925 and 1927, and the University of Washington, from 1928 to 1936. At the Smithsonian Schultz served as assistant curator of fishes from 1936 to 1938, when he was named curator-in-charge of the Division of Fishes, a position he held until 1965. He held the title senior zoologist from 1965 to 1968.
Schultz arrived at the Museum to a Division of Fishes that had not received much curatorial attention for some time. Over the course of his tenure he increased the staff of curators from one to six people, hiring young men such as Victor G. Springer and Stanley H. Weitzman, who went on to senior positions at the Smithsonian and contributed greatly to the growth of the fishes collections. Schultz dedicated his attention as well to expanding the Divison Library, which “was stored in one small, glass-covered bookcase about three feet wide and about four feet high” at the time Schultz started at the Smithsonian, and to building a photographic archive of ichthyologists.
Schultz went on many field expeditions during his time at the Smithsonian. One of his first trips under the Smithsonian was to the Phoenix and Samoan Islands in 1939, and a few years later he went on a collecting trip to Venezuela in 1942. During World War II, Schultz and a colleague also developed a list of about 400 common names of fishes to send to the U.S. Navy for use in naming submarines; they included write ups and a picture of each fish for display in the submarine.
Perhaps most significantly, he was one of the scientists sent to work with the U.S. Navy on Operation Crossroads, the atomic bomb tests conducted at the Bikini Atoll in 1946. Use the player at right to listen to Schultz talk about his involvement in Operation Crossroads.
Schultz and his colleagues were responsible for making collections of the flora and fauna of the Marshall Islands region before and after the tests. He returned to the area in 1947 as part of the Bikini Resurvey to make further collections. The fishes that they collected at that time constitute one of the more significant additions to the national collections during the twentieth century. Use the player at right to listen to Schultz talk about his contributions in curating the collections.
From 1958 to 1967, Schultz devoted a large amount of his time to studying shark attacks. As part of a study funded by the U.S. Navy to reduce the incidence of shark bites, Schultz compiled and maintained the International Shark Attack File—which recorded data about all shark attacks on humans. Today, that database is maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Leonard Schultz published many articles and books during his lifetime. Even after his retirement he retained an affiliation with the Smithsonian, serving, from 1968 until his death in 1986 as zoologist emeritus for the Museum. Use the player at right to listen to Schultz talk about how the Smithsonian changed over the course of his career.
- The Smithsonian Institution Archives has Schultz’s papers and Oral History Interview.
- Read about the history of the International Shark Attack File.
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