Morrison, Joseph P. E. (Deceased)
Joe was born on December 17, 1906, to missionary parents, Robert and Lillian Eldred, in South Bend, Indiana. His parents died in the Belgian Congo and he was adopted and raised in Springfield, Illinois, by Hugh T. Morrison. He attended Transylvania College in Kentucky and earned a BS degree at the University of Chicago in 1926. He went on to earn an MS degree and a PhD degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1929 and 1931. He showed an early career interest in zoology and worked for the Illinois State Museum, Mount Desert Island Biological Survey, and the Wisconsin State Natural History Survey. He also taught at the State University of Wisconsin, Crane Junior College, and Kelly High School in Chicago. He worked at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, as a scientific aide from 1934 to 1942, assistant curator from 1942 to 1946, and associate curator from 1946 until he retired in 1975 after 41 years of service. Joe was a specialist in land, fresh water, and estuarine mollusks and worked as a malacologist for the Mollusk Department for many years. Fieldwork took him to British Guiana, Panama, the Marshall Islands, the Tuamotus Islands, New Caledonia, Dominica, Mexico, Gulf of Maine, Tennessee, and Alabama. He was an indefatigable collector of hundreds of thousands of mollusk specimens, and also specimens of birds, mammals, fishes, reptiles, insects, and other invertebrates. He published over 100 papers and he and his collaborators named over 175 taxa. His major contributions were in the systematics of Unionidae, a family of fresh-water bivalves. Joe also was a tinkerer and inventor. He designed a number of aids in capturing specimens including a collapsible funnel fish trap and a folding mussel bar (for which he held a patent). He also worked on obtaining guns and ammunition to be used by vertebrate zoologists in the Smithsonian and Fish and Wildlife Service for collecting specimens. Alexander Wetmore especially liked his 32 caliber shot shells for small birds. Joe worked with Alexander Wetmore in the Pearl Islands in Panama in 1944 and Dr. Wetmore named a subspecies of the wood rail, Aramides cajanea, from there after him. Joe always boasted about collecting dragon flies on the wing with dust shot. During World War II he created an experimental 30 caliber M1 carbine collecting outfit as part of a survival kit for servicemen. He really liked to collect animals and he would recall what gauge shotgun and what size shot he used to collect each specimen. He was an officer or editor of several biological societies including the American Malacologists Union, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the National Capital Shell Club, and the Biological Society of Washington. He was a member of the Society of Systematic Zoologists, the National Rifle Association, the National Speleological Association, Sigma Xi, and Phi Sigma. Joe was unable to enlist in the military service in World War II as he wanted to when a brother was killed in Pearl Harbor, but the Smithsonian loaned him to the Army for work in Panama for testing the proximity fuse, poison gas, and captured Japanese gas masks. He also participated in the study of the biological effects of radioactive fallout from the atomic bomb in the Marshall Islands on Bikini, Eniwetok, Rongelap, and Rongerik Atolls. Joe was probably the first scientist on Bikini Island in 1946, and returned in 1947 as part of a resurvey team. After retirement, he made few visits to the Smithsonian or to Plummers Island because poor health curtailed his activities. Joe died on December 2, 1983, of a heart attack in Key West, Florida, just short of 77 years old. He and his wife Dorothy were married for 54 years and had two daughters, a son, seven grandchildren, and eight great grandchildren. He was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1946.