Frank C. Baker

1867 to 1942
Invertebrate Paleontology

Frank Collins Baker was a leading authority on freshwater and terrestrial gastropods of the Quaternary Period, both living and fossil (Pleistocene). In addition to malacology, he also is well known for his work in museum administration, having served as curator at the Chicago Academy of Sciences (1894 to 1915) and at the University of Illinois Museum of Natural History in Urbana (1918 to 1939). Born in Rhode Island, he apparently "often remarked that shells were favorite childhood toys brought to him from distant places by a seafaring grandfather." Many of his studies focused on previously unknown details of molluscan morphology and ecological relationships in the natural environment. Baker's scientific expertise was extensive, ranging from recent Mollusca to invertebrate paleontology to general ecology. At the Illinois State Geological Survey, Baker served as consultant in Pleistocene invertebrate paleontology and worked closely with M.M. Leighton, Chief and Pleistocene geologist at the Illinois State Geological Survey.

Benchmark publications by Baker include Mollusca of the Chicago Area (1892 and 1902, two volumes), The Life of the Pleistocene or Glacial Period in 1920, Freshwater Mollusca of Wisconsin in 1928, and Fieldbook of Illinois Land Snails in 1939. His report of the Lymnaeidae of North and Middle America, Recent and Fossil from 1911, is still regarded as the most comprehensive treatise on this subject. His last publication, also a classic that is still cited today, was of The Molluscan Family Planorbidae, published posthumously in 1945. He was President of the American Malacological Union in his last years. Over his career, he amazingly completed nearly 400 publications, many of great significance, and most dealing with Mollusca.

In addition to his many publications, F.C. Baker has left behind a tremendous collection of Recent and Pleistocene gastropods in various museums and collections. He has named several new species and subspecies, and his type specimens are of great importance. Some of his collections of Mollusca (with specimens from all over North America) are housed in the Natural Resource Building and curated by K.S. Cummings, Illinois Natural History Survey. The remainder of his collections are at the Smithsonian Institutions in Washington, D.C., as well as other museums. Baker's samples-well organized, well preserved, and meticulously labeled-although decades old, are still extremely useful today for comparative studies. The collections are also currently being used for a thesis study of Pleistocene gastropods in southwestern Illinois. There is no doubt that such historical collections will only increase in importance during the twenty-first century as gastropod species are increasingly endangered by urban runoff, pollution, and loss of habitat.

Honored by: 
Illinois American Water Co. (Barry Suits) and David A. Grimley
Citation Contributed by: 
David A. Grimley
Acknowledgments: 
Quotation from Freshwater Snails (Mollusca: gastropoda) of Maine, Northeastern Naturalist, 1999, Scott M. Martin; biographical material from obituary in Science, 1942, v.95, no. 2475, p. 568; also from http://wwn.inhs.illinois.edu/~ksc/Malacologists/BakerF.html.