Schaeffer, Bobb, 1913-2004
Bobb Schaeffer (1913-2004) studied the various aspects of vertebrate evolution and joined the AMNH staff in 1946. He was a graduate student under WIlliam King Gregory at the Museum starting in 1936 and then became Assistant Curator of Fossil Vertebrates in 1946. He was appointed Associated Curator in 1949, and Curator in 1955. In 1966, he became Chairman of the department and held the position for 10 years. He retired in 1977 but stayed at the museum as a Curator Emeritus until 1989. During Schaeffer’s more than 40 years at the museum, he was Chair of the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology as well as Dean of the Council of the Scientific Staff. Among his many contributions to the museum, he shepherded the fossil fish exhibit, tracing fish history over 500 million years.
Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Schaeffer had degrees from Cornell (B.A., 1936) and Columbia (M.A., 1937 and Ph.D., 1941). In 1941, he became a demonstrator at Jefferson Medical College on the topics of histology and embryology. That same year he married his wife, Elizaebth Chapin White, with whom he had two children, Elizabeth and Richard. He served in the Medical Administrative Corps of the army as a captain from 1942-1945. Schaeffer also taught at Columbia, first as a lecturer and starting in 1959 as a Professor of Zoology. He participated in many professional organizations during his career, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geological Society of America, the American Society of Zoologists, the Society for the Study of Evolution, the American Association of Anatomists, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (where he once served as president). This last organization gave him the Romer-SImpson Medal in 1988. He edited publications such as the News Bulletin of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution.
Much of his descriptive-systematic work was based on Triassic and Jurassic fishes collected under his direction in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Idaho and Texas. He also wrote several papers on the history of the sharks, including one on the cranial anatomy of some uniquely well preserved shark remains from the Permian rocks of Texas. In addition, he was interested in evolutionary theory, and in the patterns of vertebrate development, particularly in relation to the skeleton. His work on this type of development showed its importance in his writings on tetrapods, vertebrate calcification, osteichthyan vertebrae and osteichtyes origins, as well as the origin of the dermal skeleton. His promotion of cladistics as a method marked his position on the cutting edge of the field.
New York Times Obituary, “Bobb Schaeffer, 90, Curator and Fish Expert,” June 20, 2004
Schaeffer, Bobb (1913-2004) Paleontologist - Biographical File, AMNH Research Library