MBL History Project and MBLWHOI Library exhibits

in the Bay Reading Room: 

Supplying Biological Research and Education                                

in Woods Hole and Beyond

An exhibit developed by Arizona State University graduate student and MBL-ASU History of MBL Project scholar Sean Cohmer


Bay Reading Room exhibition case, Supply House photos and artifacts.


At its founding in 1888, the MBL depended on the U.S. Fisheries Commission for boats, collecting equipment, and knowledge about marine organisms in the region. By 1900, the MBL had opened its own Supply Department, “to facilitate the work of teachers and others at a distance who desire to obtain material for study, for class instruction, or for museum purposes” (MBL Annual Report 1896–99). This mandate for the Supply Department was at the encouragement of Dr. Henry C. Bumpus who reported in 1895 that “Over 50 educational institutions have looked to the Marine Biological Laboratory for material for class work. Since the establishment of the laboratory a new method of practical biological teaching has been made possible for schools located far inland as well as for those nearer the shore.”


Under the direction of George Gray, who served as the Supply Department’s Curator until 1930, this department grew substantially. In those early days, investigators and students largely continued to collect their own materials for research, so the director’s report makes no mention of supplying investigators when the Supply Department was established. Captain John Veeder was in charge of the MBL’s collecting vessel in those early days, and remained at the MBL retiring alongside George Gray around 1933.


The year 1930 marked a turning point for the MBL Supply Department, as it required new leadership and it needed to contend with new demands for its services. In the 1930 Annual Director’s report, it details this new purpose and need for new leadership:


In order to fill the vacancy thus created in the Supply Department and to provide for a possible ultimate separation of the two present functions of this Department, namely, that of supplying living material for experimental purposes to workers at the Laboratory and of furnishing preserved material to schools and colleges, the General Biological Supply House of Chicago was invited to assume its temporary management. In preparation for the new arrangement, Dr. D. L. Gamble, representing this firm, spent several months in residence in Woods Hole during the summer of 1930 and has since continued the general supervision of this Department from Chicago with very satisfactory results, being ably assisted by Mr. James McInnis as Resident Manager.


Clearly, the Department’s mandate had changed in those first 30 years from merely supplying those at a distance to also supplying living material to investigators locally. Full control of the department was back in the hands of James McInnis in August 1931, when the agreement with the General Biological Supply House in Chicago had expired. Though this time also marks a change for the General Biological Supply House, as they started to advertise the availability of living marine specimens for sale with the cooperation of the MBL in Woods Hole.


By 1939, the local Falmouth newspaper, the Falmouth Enterprise, featured an article with the headline “M. B. L. Supply Department One of Falmouth’s Largest Businesses.” - Sean Cohmer



Bay Reading Room Exhibition case: General Biological Supply Company


Live Supplies for Research and Education


Supplying living research material for the Marine Biological Laboratory has been integral to its operation as an educational and research institution. The MBL supply department provided the knowledge, tools, and skills necessary to find and gather marine specimens for science. Over the years this department has grown in size and scope, in part due to MBL ties with the Biological Supply industry, which began in the 1910s.


In 1914, Morris Miller Wells, who had recently received his PhD in Biology from the University of Chicago, sold microscope slides and other items from a small basement office in Chicago, thus starting the Chicago Biological Supply Company. By 1919, Wells had received encouragement from Frank Lillie, who was head of the Department of Zoology at the University of Chicago and then Director of the MBL. When Wells incorporated the company as the “General Biological Supply House” and under the trade name “Turtox”, he also formed a cooperative relationship with the MBL. Frank Lillie’s brother-in-law, Charles Crane, purchased controlling interest in Turtox and gifted that stock to the MBL. The annual income from the MBL supply department increased significantly from the additional sale of live marine specimens, and Turtox provided dividends to the MBL as a majority shareholder.


The MBL and Turtox enjoyed over 30 years of cooperation. While Turtox supplied microscope slides and tools to MBL investigators, the MBL—in turn—supplied living marine specimens to Turtox from November to April each year. Turtox sold living and preserved specimens, scale models, tools, and teaching aids to educators from the 1920s through the late 1970s. Through this unique science-industry collaboration, the MBL expanded its reach into science education about marine organisms inland. - Sean Cohmer





Also on display in the Bay Reading Room, on display the second issue of the 1926 volume 1 of The Collecting Net.


The Volume 1, Number 2 (1926) issue of The Collecting Net has been printed out in full from the MBLWHOI Library partner, the Biodiversity Heritage Library        ( www.biodiversitylibrary.org ).


The Collecting Net newspaper in its earliest iteration (1926-1953) was the general and scientific news and information go-to for the MBL summer community.  The earliest issues of this newspaper are a fascinating read, and one article in this issue "Cooperation in Research" (partially displayed below) is to be noted: the article suggests that by opening up your laboratory to visitors one day each summer, you change the whole tenor of the Laboratory from a place where work just gets done to a place where people communicate and  learn from each other to move science progress ahead as a community.



Exhibit case


Detail, volume 1 number 2 page 2 (1926)


This article in full may be viewed via the MBLWHOI Library partner, the Biodiversity Heritage Library:



The Biodiversity Heritage Library celebrates its  its 10th year in 2016. The MBLWHOI Library is a founding partner of the BHL, and about 5000 volumes from our collections have been scanned into this 179,000 volume+ invaluable freely accessible resource. ( www.biodiversitylibrary.org ) - Matt Person





in the Library lobby display area:

marine animal models in Research, reflected in sciencE literature


The Library Lobby area display table, which periodically rotates different examples of science literature now has a number of articles on display, mostly from the MBL publication the Biological Bulletin, about past research on common Woods Hole region marine animal models.


The use of local marine animals in scientific research is a main reason why MBL and the other Woods Hole research facilities were all originally situated here. The Atlantic Ocean waters of this region are dynamic meeting points between the Atlantic, the Gulf Stream, Buzzards Bay, and Cape Cod Bay. These bodies of water all exert particular influences, resulting partly in the extreme diversity of marine life present. The articles on display and listed below can also be viewed through the Biodiversity Heritage Library links below:


Limulus Polyphemus (horseshoe crab)

Barlow, Robert B., Maureen K. Powers, Heidi Howard, and Leonard Kass. (1986). “Migration of Limulus for Mating: Relation to Lunar Phase, Tide Height, and Sunlight”. Biological Bulletin 171 (2). pp 310–29




Arbacia punctulata (sea urchin)

"A comparison of the development of nucleate and non-nucleate eggs of Arbacia punctulata", Biological Bulletin v. 79 n. 1



Doryteuthis pealeii (formerly Loligo pealeii) (squid)

Hatfield, E, Cadrin, S (2002)  Geographic and temporal patterns in size and maturity of the longfin inshore squid (Loligo pealeii) off the northeastern United States, Fishery Bulletin, v.100, n.2 pp 200-213



Microciona prolifera (red beard sponge)

(1990), Biochemical and Functional Effects of Sulfate Restriction in the Marine Sponge, Microciona prolifera. Biological Bulletin, v.179, pp 358-365




Ciona intestinalis (sea squirt)

Lambert CC, Brandt CL, (1967) The effect of light on the spawning of Ciona intestinalis, Biological Bulletin, v.132 pp 222-228



Spisula solidissima (surf clam)

Allen, RD, (1953) FERTILIZATION AND ARTIFICIAL ACTIVATION IN THE EGG OF THE SURF-CLAM, SPISULA SOLIDISSIMA Fertilization and artificial activation of the egg of the surf clam, Spisula solidissma. Biological Bulletin v.105, n. 2 pp 213-239



The above exhibits are open to all during library open hours, 8AM-5PM, M-F.

Exhibit assistance was kindly provided by the MBL Marine Resources Department, and MBL Facilities.


Summer, 2016