The Helminthological Society
of Washington marks with deep regret the passing of Dr. Gotthold Steiner
who died suddenly of a heart attack on August 21, 1961. For forty
years he had been a distinguished and respected member. He was elected
president in 1925 and was made a life member in 1956.
Dr. Steiner was born in Signau, Switzerland, on April 8, 1886. His higher education was at the Universities of Berne and Zurich. He received his doctor's degree from the former institution in 1910, became Privat-Docent in 1918, and served on the teaching staff until 1921. By this time his research was beginning to receive wide recognition. His publications came to the attention of Dr. N.A. Cobb who was sufficiently impressed by them to induce Dr. Steiner to continue his career in the United States and who helped secure for him an appointment as Sessel Research Fellow at Yale University. After a year at Yale, during which he became a United States citizen, he was appointed Nematologist and Technologist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and joined the staff of Dr. Cobb's Nematology Laboratory on June 1,1922.
After Dr. Cobb's death in 1932, Dr. Steiner succeeded him as Principal Nematologist in Charge, was promoted to the rank of Head Nematologist in 1951, and was retired on April 30, 1956. He then went to Puerto Rico where he continued his career, until the time of his death, as Nematologist for the Agricultural Experiment Station at Rio Piedras. In recognition of his service to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which eventually spanned a period of nearly 34 years, he received the Superior Service Award in 1948 and the Distinguished Service Award in 1955.
In breadth of training, interest, and experience in his chosen field, Dr. Steiner had few peers. The geographical broadening of his experience was begun before he came to the United States, by periods of study at the Zoological Stations in Naples, Italy; Cette, France; and Helgoland, Germany; and by identifying and describing nematodes collected by the German South Polar Expedition of 1901 to 1913. This broadening was continued by experience in many other parts of the world including a trip to Brazil in 1951 and, finally, by his recent work in Puerto Rico.
Dr. Steiner's contributions,
numbering some 195 publications, deal largely, though not exclusively,
with free-living nematodes, including marine, fresh water, and soil forms,
and with the nematode parasites of plants and of invertebrate animals.
It is difficult to select a few for special mention because many are noteworthy.
His two-part monograph wherein he described the nematodes collected by
the German South Polar Expedition is a monumental work and one of several
important contributions to our knowledge of the marine fauna. It
is distinguished by superb drawings of the different species of Epsilonematidae.
His studies on the morphology and classification of the Mermithidae, which
resulted in numerous publications, were extensive and outstanding.
He became one of the few who could make identifications in this taxonomically
difficult group of invertebrate parasites. His publication "Plant
Nematodes the Grower Should Know" is one of the more important of his many
contributions in the field of phytonematology. Appearing originally
in the Proceedings of the Soil Science Society of Florida, it was republished
as a bulletin by the Florida Department of Agriculture and became a valuable
and much consulted source of information, especially in the South.
Dr. Steiner began his work in the United States at a time when the nematode parasites of plants were receiving little attention. Dr. Cobb was engaged in a kind of crusade to convince his colleagues in the Department of Agriculture and elsewhere of the economic importance of these organisms but his efforts made little impression on a hard core of skepticism. Most leaders in agricultural research seemed convinced that, with perhaps a few exceptions, nematodes had no important effects on crop production. After Dr. Cobb's death, Dr. Steiner took up the torch. He never faltered in his convictions nor relinquished his efforts to gain proper recognition for what we now call phytonematology.
That the importance of plant
parasitic nematodes would be recognized eventually was inevitable; that
the efforts of Cobb and Steiner had much effect in hastening the day seems
doubtful. Events that finally brought the importance of these pests
into prominence had a kind of "grass-roots" origin. During the early
1940's nematicides became available that could be used on a field scale
and that made it possible to demonstrate the increased yields that often
result when these pests are controlled. Growers were impressed and
began asking for information regarding control procedures that experiment
stations could scarcely ignore. The statements and predictions of
Cobb and Steiner took on new significance.
Dr. Cobb never lived to see this change but it was Dr. Steiner's good fortune to see his predictions come true and even his most extravagant claims vindicated. Prophets are not always without honor in their own country.