A “Cabinet of Natural History” at the University of Kansas was established by the Kansas Territorial legislature in 1864. However, it wasn't until 1898 that the first fishes (specimens collected in Douglas County) were brought to the State University Museum (now known as the KU Natural History Museum) for inclusion. In 1900 the Kansas State Legislature approved the construction of Dyche Hall, the building that currently houses the Division of Ichthyology and the ichthyological collection.
Kansas fish collection
The first catalog of the Kansas fish collection was created by zoology students in the early 1900's using a series of cards. These early specimens were cataloged individually rather than in lots and were stored in formalin. The collection was largely unused, except for work done by Claude Hibbard, a University of Kansas paleontologist who contributed many skeletonized specimens to the collection, as well as by John Breukelman, who was from the Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia, Kan. John Bruekelman in particular made many collections in Kansas and published "A Collection of Fishes in the State University Museum" (Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci. 43:377-384) in 1940 and "A Review of Kansas Ichthyology" (Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci. 49:51-70) in 1946. As Curator of Lower Vertebrates during the 1940's, Edward H. Taylor hired a student to create a new card catalog of fish specimens based on the publications by Dr. Breukelman (1940, 1946). This second catalog was independent of the previous catalog and was never completed.
Frank Cross' ethanol collections
Frank B. Cross arrived at the University of Kansas in 1951. Dr. Cross was originally hired as a fisheries biologist through the Kansas Biological Survey. Dr. Cross had a 25% appointment through the Natural History Museum to care for the fish collection but this appointment was not an official curatorial appointment. Dr. Cross instituted a new ledger-based catalog and used the incomplete catalog created in the 1940's for the first 1754 ledger entries. Dr. Cross began the preservation of fishes in 70% ethanol (isopropanol has never been used in the KU collection) and he changed the collection from a specimen-based one to a lot-based one. Other older material not included in the second catalog was eventually incorporated into the catalog ledger. Dr. Cross' ledger-based catalog (supplemented by an ichthyology collection computer database) is still in use today.
During the forty years of Dr. Cross's work at KU he undertook extensive collections within the state of Kansas and adjacent states and mentored many graduate students. Dr. Cross has published many works on the fishes of Kansas including the comprehensive works, The Handbook of Fishes in Kansas (Cross, 1967), Fishes in Kansas (Cross and Collins, 1975), and Fishes in Kansas, 2nd ed. (Cross and Collins, 1995).
In 1965 a new wing was added to Dyche Hall and the ichthyological collection moved from the seventh floor to the fourth floor, which Ichthyology shared with Herpetology. Dr. Cross officially became the first Curator of Ichthyology at the Natural History Museum in 1973 when he received a 50% curatorial appointment. The collection and the division moved a second time to the fifth floor of Dyche Hall (where the division remains today) during the 1974/1975 academic year.
Gerald R. Smith became the second curator in the division in the late-1960's and added many specimens from the western United States to the collection, most notably many minnow (Family Cyprinidae) and sucker (Family Catostomidae) specimens. In the early 1970's, Dr. Smith left the University of Kansas for a position as faculty curator of ichthyology and vertebrate paleontology at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. In 1968, Joseph T. Collins became part-time collection manager for Ichthyology, where he served for 25 years.
E. O. Wiley joined Dr. Cross as a faculty curator of ichthyology in 1976. Since that time Wiley has pursued a research program based on the phylogenetic systematics of fishes and the development of systematic philosophy, including the publication of the book Phylogenetics, The Theory and Practice of Phylogenetic Systematics (1981). In 1987 Wiley began a laboratory for molecular systematics in the Division of Ichthyology. This was the beginning of the current Biodiversity Research Center multiuser Molecular Systematics Laboratory. Wiley also began the ichthyology tissue collection and has added to it through collecting trips to the southeastern United States, Belize, and the South Pacific.
Cross retired in June 1991 after forty years of work at the University of Kansas and became a Faculty Curator Emeritus. At the time of his retirement, the collection had grown to 22,984 lots and was considered the 16th most important collection in North America. His extensive work on Kansas fishes and the waters they inhabit has formed the foundation for all subsequent work on the fishes of Kansas.
Kate A. Shaw became the first full-time collection manager of ichthyology in 1993. Shaw has overseen the final stages of digitization of the collection and has been involved in several efforts focused on the assessment, care, and maintenance of ichthyological specimens. Shaw has also continued a research program including studies of curatorial procedures, systematics of fishes, and the natural history of Kansas fishes. She has made significant collections of marine fishes, which have greatly augmented the tissue collection.
Walter W. Dimmick joined Dr. Wiley as a faculty curator of ichthyology in 1993 and pursued a research program based on molecular, phylogenetic systematics of fishes and studies of modes of speciation. Dimmick transferred his position to the Kansas Biological Survey in 2004.
C. Richard Robins joined the Division of Ichthyology as a Faculty Curator Emeritus in 1994. Robins continues to be an active researcher studying the systematics of various marine fish groups. Robins has contributed many cusk eel (ophidiiform) and cutthroat eel (synaphobranchids) specimens to the collection.
In 1996 the alcohol collections were moved into a new wing of Dyche Hall constructed to hold all museum alcohol collections. Skeleton, tissue, and cleared and stained collections remain on the fifth floor with the staff and students of the division.
Andrew C. Bentley became the collection manager at the start of 2001, after Shaw left for Saipan, in the South Pacific. He came here from the J. L. B. Smith Institute of Ichthyology in Grahamstown, South Africa, where he was the collection manager for four years.