Fritz Meyer, ca. 1835 - 1880
Stazione Zoologica Napoli

by Brian Stevenson
last updated December, 2017

The Stazione Zoologica Napoli (Zoological Station at Naples, Italy) was founded in 1872 by German biologist Anton Dohrn (1840-1909). It was the first zoological research station in the world. It was partly funded by providing research space to individuals, universities, and other organizations who, for a fee, had access to all the facilities and staff. It is still in operation, as the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn Napoli.

The Stazione Zoologica produced highly-regarded microscope slides. Brian Bracegirdle, in Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, noted that “relatively few slides from Naples are found”. This is due to the very brief period in which they were produced, which was from early 1880 until about 1886.

Fritz Meyer, whose name appears on the slide labels, was a professional slide-maker who was brought in expressly to produce microscope slides. However, he died only a few months after the start of commercial production. That setback, and the low profitability of slide-making and -selling, led the Stazione Zoologica to abandon the field by 1886.

Figure 1. Microscope slides prepared by Fritz Meyer for the Stazione Zoologica Napoli. The numbers and specimen descriptions on each slide match their 1880 slide list (Figure 7).


Figure 2. Photomicrographs of the specimens in the slides shown in Figure 1. Top, Number 81: “Synapta sp. larva, entwas weiter entwickelt” (“somewhat further developed” – number 80 is a newly-emerged larva); Middle, Number 119: Hermione hystrix Savigny, haare (“hairs” - this is a polychaete worm): Bottom, Number 187: Salpa democratica-mucronata Forskål (a planktonic tunicate).


Little is known of the life of Fritz Meyer, who joined the Zoological Station in 1878. Dohrn wrote that Meyer came from Leipzig, Germany, where he had a good reputation for this work, “machte ich Herrn Fritz Meyer in Leipzig, dessen technisch-wissenschaftliche Befähigung von competentesten Seiten in hohem Maße anerkannt ward, den Vorschlag, die Leitung des einzurichtenden Departements für Herstellung mikroskopischer Präparate in der Zoologischen Station zu übernehmen”. (“I proposed to Mr. Fritz Meyer in Leipzig, whose technical and scientific ability was widely recognized by the most competent authorities, to take over the management of the department for the manufacture of microscopic preparations at the Zoological Station”).

The reputation described by Dohrn suggests that our slide-maker was the same Fritz Meyer of Leipzig who published two significant papers on animal physiology: 1875’s “Beitrag zur Anatomie des Urogenitalsystems der Selachier und Amphibien” (“Contribution to the anatomy of the urogenital systems of the selachians and amphibians”), and 1876’s “Ueber die Nieren der Flussneunaugen (Petromyzon fluviatilis)” (“On the kidneys of the river lamprey (Petromyzon fluviatilis)“). The topics of those works are consistent with the work Meyer was to perform on aquatic animals in Naples.

Rosenbauer suggests that Meyer may have been the man named Fritz Eduard Meyer who operated a druggist’s shop in Leipzig, and who is not listed in city directories after 1878 (Figure 4). A druggist would have ready access to chemicals and dyes necessary for preparing specimens. It should be noted that many contemporary English slide-makers were druggists / pharmacists.

Arnold Lang, who worked with Meyer in Naples, described him as “a man approaching middle-age. Strong and slow-moving, jovial in the company of superiors and subordinates. Outside his department he had few interests; but within this, in the microscopic technique, he followed with great passion everything that could contribute to further perfection”. From the comment “approaching middle-age”, we gather that Meyer was then in his forties, possibly fifty.

Among the many scientists who spent time at the Zoological Station was Élie Metchnikoff (1845-1916), who became famous for his immunology research. A letter from Meyer to Dohrn, dated March 14, 1880, stated, "Professor Elias Metchnikoff got very excited after having gone through many preparations of echinoderms. He seriously predicts what I once said to you as a joke, that in future zoologists will come to Naples for a few weeks only, buy a considerable number of microscopical slides, and then study and describe them at home."

Fritz Meyer died in October, 1880. According to Lang, Meyer died from a stroke.

Figure 3. Stazione Zoologica, ca. 1890.


Figure 4. Possibly our slide-maker, the 1877 Leipzig city address book listed only one person named Fritz Meyer. This man, Fritz Eduard Meyer, operated Otto Meißner und Co., a drug store.


Figure 5. 1880 notices that appeared in “Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society”.


Figure 6. An advertisement from the Naples Zoological Station, seeking a replacement for Fritz Meyer.


Figure 7. From the Zoological Station’s 1886 report, a listing of microscope slides sold between 1882 and 1884, followed by a statement “The Zoological Station ceased producing further microscopic preparations, as it turned out that selling did not cover the costs. Perhaps at a later date, and after a better thought-out plan, production may be revived”. The report notes that sales to Edmund “Whaler” (Edmund Wheeler) and R. & J. Beck in London, Edward Ward in Manchester, and Gustav Schneider in Basel were all commissioned sales, and probably destined for resale. Those bought by Charles Baker of London were probably also for resale.


Figure 8. The 1880 preliminary list of microscope slides available from Stazione Zoologica Napoli. Dohrn wrote, “the tireless work of Mr. Fritz Meyer has … enabled me to publish a first, albeit provisional, catalog of microscopic specimens which can be obtained from the Zoological Station. I place particular emphasis on the word provisional, because I will immediately add that the preparation of a much more extensive and factually more structured catalog waits only until the number and variety of available preparations will allow us to really fill in the many requirements of a complete directory”.



Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London, pages 66, 87-88, and 160, plate 28-G

Ghiselin, Michael T., and Christiane Groeben (1997) Elias Metschnikoff, Anton Dohrn, and the Metazoan common ancestor, Journal of the History of Biology, Vol. 30, pages 211-228

Groeben, Christiane (2013) Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896) Anton Dohrn (1840-1909): Briefwechsel, Springer-Verlag, Berlin

Haeckel, Ernst, Hugo Eisig, and Karl Haeschler (1916) Aus dem Leben und Wirken von Arnold Lang, G. Fischer, page 82

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1880) Announcements on microscope slides from the Naples Zoological Station, Vol. 3, pages 700-701 and 1031-1032

Leipzig city directory (1877) accessed through

Meyer, Fritz (1875) Beitrag zur Anatomie des Urogenitalsystems der Selachier und Amphibien, Sitzungsberichte der Naturforschender Gesellschaft zu Leipzig, Vol. 2, pages 38-44

Meyer, Fritz (1876) Ueber die Nieren der Flussneunaugen (Petromyzon fluviatilis), Centralblatt für die Medicinischen Wissenschaften, Vol. 14, pages 20-21

Mittheilungen aus der Zoologischen Station zu Neapel (1881) Vol. 2, pages 46, 238-253, and 513

Mittheilungen aus der Zoologischen Station zu Neapel (1886) Vol. 6, pages 130-131

Rosenbauer, Karlheinz A. (2003) Mikroskopische Präparate, Vol. 1, John Wiley & Sons, pages 50-51

Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn Napoli (web site accessed December, 2017)

Zoologischer Anzeiger (1881) Advertisement for a replacement for Fritz Meyer, Vol. 4, February issue