February 15, 2010

The Agassiz of Harvard's Agassiz Museum


Alexander Emanuel Agassiz (1835-1910) discovered a rich copper lode known as the Calumet conglomerate on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Lake Superior in Michigan. He managed the Calumet & Hecla Copper Mines that were not just extensive, but through the prudent and judicious investment by fellow Boston Brahmins, not only became among the largest copper mines in the world, but surely the most profitable, with dividends being paid annually and on a consistent basis. Agassiz was a major factor in the mine's continued success and he visited the mines twice a year. He innovated mining by installing a giant engine, known as the Superior, which was able to lift 24 tons of rock from a depth of 1,200 metres. He also built a railroad and dredged a channel which led to navigable waters.

A son of the naturist and Harvard professor Louis Agassiz, he largely funded the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, and donated many of the exhibits that he collected throughout the world. Born in Neuch√Ętel, Switzerland, he emigrated to the United States with his father in 1849. He was graduated from Harvard College in 1855, subsequently studying engineering and chemistry, and taking the degree of bachelor of science at the Lawrence Scientific School of the same institution in 1857, and in 1859 he became an assistant in the United States Coast Survey. Agassiz served as a president of the National Academy of Sciences, which since 1913 has awarded the Alexander Agassiz Medal in his memory.
There are simple brownstone crosses on Sweet Briar Path that mark the graves of Alexander Agassiz and his wife, Anna Russell Agassiz, and which are located at the crest of Mount Dearborn at Forest Hills Cemetery. The simplicity of design, material and style belie the immense philanthropic generosity of the Agassiz.

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