William Stimpson (1832-1872) was a student of the eminent naturalist Jean Louis Agassiz at Harvard University in 1850. He first arrived at the Smithsonian in 1852 after a collecting expedition on the Canadian island of Grand Manan. Making use of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Laboratory, William Stimpson prepared a catalogue of the specimens that he had collected.
While at the Smithsonian, Stimpson studied and cataloged its large collection of marine invertebrates as well as the over 5,000 specimens he had collected on the North Pacific Exploring Expedition (1853-1856).
Stimpson was appointed director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences in 1866 for which he secured the loan of most of the Smithsonian’s invertebrate collections for the academy. These collections and his life’s work, including original notes and drawings, were destroyed in 1871 when the Academy burned in the great Chicago fire. Devastated by the loss, the disaster may have exacerbated Stimpson’s already frail health; he succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of forty, less than eight months after the fire.