Franz Steindachner (1834-1919)
After completion of his studies at the legal faculty Franz Steindachner turned to natural sciences. At the suggestion of his
friend, geologist and palaeontologist Eduard Suess, he investigated fossil fishes at first. In the course of this work and
by dealing with material of the Novara expedition, Steindachner got in touch with the Fish Collection of the Naturalienkabinett.
Because of his excellent work he was offered the position of director of the Fish Collection in 1860, a post vacant since
Heckel's death in 1857. First collecting trips led him to Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands and Senegal. Between 1859 and
1868 he published no less than 55 ichthyological articles, amounting to almost 900 pages and thus, within a very short time,
established himself as an outstanding ichthyologist.
In recognition of his merits, Louis Agassiz, at that time best known naturalist of America, invited Steindachner in 1868 to
accept a post at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Steindachner took a two years' leave to consider the
offer on the spot. In Cambridge he worked up the collection from the Thayer expedition, particularly South American freshwater
fishes, which form - thanks to Natterer's work - an important part of the Viennese collection as well. Following Agassiz's
invitation, Steindachner then took part in the Hassler expedition in 1871/72, which circumnavigated South America from Boston
to San Francisco. From the enormous yield of this journey - more than 100,000 fish - Steindachner was allowed to take material
almost at will for his Viennese collection, and he duly credited Aggasiz for this. Nevertheless he felt a bit used, even exploited,
by his famous colleague. He was probably right in foreseeing that, should he stay in Cambridge, he would remain forever in
Agassiz's shadow. He feared that Agassiz, slightly prone to vanity, might impede Steindachner's own scientific activities.
So he finally refused professorship in Cambridge and, in 1874, returned to Vienna for good. During the years to come Steindachner
visited several European museums to study their organisational structures: construction of the new imperial museum-building
was in preparation already. In 1886 the move of the ichthyological collection to the new house at the Ringstraße was accomplished
and one year later Steindachner was appointed director of the Zoological Department. Foci during the years 1891 to 1898 were
the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, where several expeditions on the "Pola", a transport-ship of the navy, were undertaken.
In 1898 Steindachner was promoted director of the imperial museum. His last big journey, in 1903, led him to Brazil, where
he undertook extensive collecting trips, notwithstanding his advanced age of 69 and heavy fits of malaria. After his retirement
in early 1919, he, the "Fischhofrat" ("Fish-Councillor-to-the-Court"), was even allowed to further use his official residence
in (!) the Fish Collection. Steindachner died that very year in consequence of pneumonia.
Viktor Pietschmann (1881-1956)
After finishing his studies in zoology, Viktor Pietschmann became Steindachner's assistant at the museum in 1905. The same
year already he travelled to the Barents Sea and in 1909 he studied deep-sea fishing at Greenland's south coast. Pietschmann's
collections from his expeditions to Mesopotamia (1910) and Armenia (1914) are of great importance. In Armenia he was caught
in World War I and stayed in Turkey, where he served his time as an officer in the Turkish army. From 1919 to his retirement
in 1946 he headed the Fish Collection. In 1927 he spent a year on Hawaii, other collecting trips led him to Romania and Poland.
Pietschmann's scientific bequest comprises some 50 publications and many popular-science articles. He died in November 1956.
Pietschmann's death definitely brought to an end the era of important collectors for Vienna's ichthyology. Among other reasons
it was the consequences of the Great War that were responsible for this: Austria had lost her access to the sea and thus her
navy, heavy blows especially for ichthyology. The economic situation after 1918 as well as the political instability of the
time did not exactly provide favourable conditions for adequate science. Moreover, and quite apart from these grounds, the
general attitude towards collecting for museums underwent a change. The impossibility of ever being able to achieving collections
which could be called complete had long been understood - especially when dealing with groups of such enormous scope as fishes.
And, for the first time, the environmental compatibility of catching methods was considered (Steindachner - unthinkable nowadays
- still used dynamite for fishing during his expeditions to the Red Sea). Questions about the sense of gargantuan collections
arose. Museums were confronted to new tasks. In addition to the classical systematic-taxonomic research the vast field of
species conservation opened up. Today ecology, mapping programmes of habitats, red lists of endangered species and securing
of proof specimens are essential components of the scope of activities in the Fish Collection.