Supply & Sale - The General Biological Supply House, Turtox Products (1913–67)

Between 1913 and 1930, the General Biological Supply House in Chicago also grew remarkably. Morris Miller Wells started what he originally called the “Chicago Biological Supply House” in 1913, while he was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. He began working out of a basement office there, and the business continued to expand under his leadership. Wells completed his PhD at Chicago in 1915, and began teaching there as an Associate Professor. In 1918, with the help of Frank Lillie and his brother-in-law, Charles Crane, Wells resigned from his work at the University of Chicago, and incorporated his thriving business under the new name “General Biological Supply House”—selling products under the trade name Turtox. Frank Lillie was then the Director of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole (starting in 1908). Lillie married Frances Williams Crane (whom he met at the MBL in 1895), and her brother Charles R. Crane became an early and often financial backer of the MBL. When the GBSH incorporated, Charles Crane bought a controlling interest (fifty-one percent) of the General Biological Supply House common stock, worth $18,000 at the time of purchase, and gifted that common stock to the MBL. During these early years, the General Biological Supply House continued to outgrow its operating space in Chicago, and nearly every five years expanded into new and larger facilities to accommodate its growth.

The best surviving record of the General Biological Supply House and its roughly sixty-year history comes in the form of a monthly circular called “Turtox News.” These were fairly short circulars, intended for informed high school and college biology educators, and its peak distribution reached over 25,000 subscribers per month. The MBL and GBSH agreed that MBL collectors would supply marine specimens during the off-season, from November to April. One exception to the seasonal nature of the collecting for sale seemed to be the collection and preservation of dogfish for educators, which was due to the breeding season and availability of dogfish as well as the economic and educational value of preserved dogfish. These preserved dogfish were sent to schools around the country for laboratory dissection as illustrative examples of bony fish.

In addition to these monthly circulars, the supply house distributed short manuals for educators, including a pamphlet on the collection and preservation of animal forms by Morris Miller Wells (published posthumously). Four editions of a pamphlet titled “Living specimens in the school laboratory” were published in the early 1940s, and a large catalog listing most of the biological supply house’s products and prices titled “The Biological Red Book” was distributed in the mid-to-late 1920s. The products during this time included models of the skeletal, embryological, and morphological variety as well as prepared slides, specimen jars, and arranged teaching exhibits.

The MBL received annual dividends from the General Biological Supply House, which steadily grew from thousands of dollars annually to roughly $65,000 annually until 1967 when the MBL sold its stock. When the MBL sold its stock, it was worth nearly 2.7 million dollars. The MBL invested this money in short-term securities and used the funds and short-term interest to build the Loeb laboratory and the Swope center, beginning in 1968 and 1969.