Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 16 Issue 03

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Volume 16, No. 3
Pages 11 - 14


Oceanography Before Scripps

Eric L. Mills
First Paragraph

When George F. McEwen, a young physicist, came to La Jolla in 1912 as a full-time employee of William E. Ritter’s laboratory of the Marine Biological Association of San Diego as its first physical oceanographer, he was told by his mentors at the University of Illinois that no such profession existed (Mills, 1990; Figure 1). There was a grain of truth in this assertion, for even the word “oceanography” did not have a clear professional definition then or for several decades to come. Indeed, Ritter’s laboratory in La Jolla, under the wing of the University of California, came to be called the Scripps Institution for Biological Research beginning in 1912, and it was only in 1924, under a new director, Thomas Wayland Vaughan, that the laboratory was named the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Oceanography as a professional specialization hardly existed even in 1930, when the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the first sister institution to Scripps, was founded under the direction of Henry Bigelow on the East Coast of the United States. A strong case can be made that it was World War II that solidified a set of disparate approaches to the ocean into a profession and a suite of professional practices that recognizably characterize oceanography in a modern sense.


Mills, E.L. 2003. Oceanography before Scripps. Oceanography 16(3):11–14, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2003.24.

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