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"Lake Mendota is our Laboratory"

Arthur Hasler, (b. January 5, 1908 – d. March 23, 2001), was a world renowned limnologist, who enjoyed a 41 year career as a member of the UW-Madison faculty.  Born in Lehi, Utah, Hasler graduated from Brigham Young University in 1932, and earned a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1937.  He then joined the UW-Madison faculty as an instructor and achieved the rank of professor in 1948. 

During the 1940s Hasler spent time working in postwar Germany as a research analyst for the Air Force Strategic Bombing Survey.  While in Germany he developed a lifelong love for German language and literature, and was known to pepper his popular undergraduate lectures with lines from Goethe to convey to his students nature’s moral and ethical beauty. 

Hasler was best known for his research within the Department of Limnology.  Limnology, as Hasler describes in this clip, is “the science of lakes,” a field in which he and his students attempt to “unfathom the unknowns of the aquatic community.”

Hasler played a vital role in the construction of the Laboratory of Limnology on Lake Mendota and the Trout Lake Station on Trout Lake, continuing the legacy of limnology leadership of his predecessors E. A. Birge and Chancey Juday

In the late 1940s, Hasler began his seminal research on the homing behavior of salmon.  Hasler showed how “olfactory imprinting” allowed salmon to swim thousands of miles to spawn in the stream of their birth.  Hasler also researched land-water interactions that shed light on the impact of agricultural runoff on water quality in Lake Mendota.  His work with local politicians, civic groups, and the state legislature helped combat the effects of cultural eutrophication, the excessive loading of nutrients into lakes from urban and agricultural runoff, and was an example of effectively using science to guide public policy.   

Hasler and Fisherman

Dr. Hasler enjoyed a prolific career in and out of the university.  He advised 52 doctoral students, authored more than 200 publications and seven books, and served as Zoology Department chair in 1953 and 1955-1957.  Additionally, he served as president of the American Society for Limnology and Oceanography, the American Society of Zoologists, and the Ecological Society of America.   

In addition to his numerous honorary degrees and achievements, Hasler was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in 1969, and in 1972 was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He retired in 1978. 

If spawning fish has spawned a curiosity about limnology research, be sure to check out the UW-Madison Center for Limnology’s official blog.  For more information about Dr. Hasler’s background, work, and service, you can listen to over 4 hours of recorded audio interviews through the UW-Madison Oral History Program. The University Archives also maintains a sizable collection of Hasler’s papers

For more information about Arthur Hasler or UW-Madison history, visit

By Marcus Bacher for the UW-Madison Archives.


Arthur Hasler film clip from “The University Serves” (c. 1966).

Photo from the UW Digital Collections Center “The History of Limnology Collection.” Hasler and unidentified fisherman at the annual Madison Fisherman’s Association perchery, c. 1954-1955.

Filed under limnology Lake Mendota Arthur Hasler Edward A. Birge history US history university faculty lakes UW-Madison Wisconsin

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Edward Asahel Birge (1850-1951), professor and administrator at the University of Wisconsin, is shown here conducting limnology research in 1929. Birge became acting president of the University in 1900, and though he hoped to stay in the position, he was passed over in favor of Charles Van Hise after a controversial battle between UW Regent William Vilas and then-governor Robert LaFollette. When Van Hise died unexpectedly in 1918, Birge finally became President.

Birge engaged in an ongoing debate with William Jennings Bryan on the topic of evolution, and he was one of the founders of the field of limnology, the study of inland lakes and rivers. Along with collaborator Chancey Juday, he founded UW’s School of Limnology on Lake Mendota. Birge retired in 1925 but continued his research into the 1940s. He died in 1950; upon his death, the University renamed the Botany Building in his honor.

Video clip from “On to Wisconsin” (1929).

For more information about this video or UW-Madison campus history, visit

Posted by Molly Temple for UW Archives

Filed under Limnology Edward A. Birge UW-Madison Wisconsin history presidents US history faculty university science fish lakes 1920s