University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Way Home

Art Hasler’s Son Shares Stories from His Father’s Life

by Adam Hinterthuer, Limnology News – Number 25, Fall 2016

Fritz Hasler presents at fall seminar

On a gray, rainy afternoon in mid-September, room 102 in the Water Science and Engineering Laboratory was filling up fast. Students, faculty, staff and a handful of other visitors crammed the room to capacity and dozens of other attendees were watching live online from the conference rooms at the Center for Limnology’s (CFL) Hasler Lab and Trout Lake Station (TLS). The big attraction was a talk entitled “The Way Home,” and everyone was about to hear the story of the life of Arthur Hasler (PhD 1937, Juday), namesake of our lab and irreplaceable figure in limnological history. The speaker was none other than Art’s son, Fritz.

Fritz has spent the last several years archiving his father’s history. He spent weeks in the Hasler Lab library converting old slides into digital files. He listened to every second of the amazing oral history collected by the UW Archives. And Fritz has scoured the photo albums and family histories of all of his brothers and sisters, as well as the genealogical records collected by the family’s Mormon church. The result is a testament both to the accomplished scientist who helped build the CFL and to the immense respect of a son for his father’s legacy.

“I’m going to tell you the story of Arthur D. Hasler better than it’s ever been told before,” Fritz promised the crowd – which included CFL alumni and many of Hasler’s other children.  And Fritz delivered. His presentation was fascinating, funny and filled with amazing pictures from the life of a man who steered the Center for Limnology toward an incredible future. Here are a couple of highlights:

Art and grad student, Warren Wisby, examine the experimental set-up that would help them discover how salmon find their way home. CFL Archives

Art’s Seminal Scientific Achievement

Hasler is best known in scientific circles for uncovering how salmon find their way home after a lifetime at sea. What many may not know is that a hike in the Rocky Mountains played a pivotal role in this work. As he was hiking in Utah’s Wasatch mountains, Fritz said, a breeze carrying a familiar mixture of smells washed over Art and, even though he was well out of sight of his favorite waterfall, he could suddenly and vividly picture the falls he’d come to love on childhood hikes. Could smells be similarly imprinted on salmon? Hasler wondered. The idea soon had him plugging the noses of some unlucky salmon and tracking their travel up a Western stream, as well as building a sort of fish “maze” in the lake lab at the end of Park Street on the UW-Madison campus. There, Hasler and graduate student, Warren Wisby (MS 1950), released chemicals into specific channels of the “maze” and trained fingerlings to follow their nose to a food reward. Hasler’s children often visited their dad at the lab and, Fritz joked when looking at a picture of that particular experiment, “if I could smell that lab again, it would definitely trigger memories!”

Art Hasler CFL Archives

Art’s Misadventures in Landscape Demolition

A lot of science, as we know, is learning from mistakes. A hypothesis proven wrong is still one step closer to getting at a theory. That is, of course, if you don’t blow yourself up first. Perhaps one of Fritz’s funniest recollections was the story of Art being convinced that dynamite, not the backbreaking labor of digging, could excavate some research ponds he wanted to install in the UW Arboretum. The tale was caught on tape in a series of interviews for the UW Archive’s oral history project. After packing the prescribed amount of dynamite into their preferred pond sites, Art’s team retreated a safe distance and flipped the switch. The explosion, while impressive, failed miserably. “The force lifted the peat straight in the air and it cascaded right back down,” Hasler says on the tape. This became known in Arboretum circles as “Hasler’s Folly,” proving that even scientific luminaries can have a bad day!

These and all sorts of stories, pictures and audio recordings have been meticulously collected by Fritz and are available on his blog. If you’d like to see everything from pictures of Art feeding a dolphin to letters home on confiscated Nazi stationary during his stint in the U.S.’s Strategic Bombing Survey, it’s a fascinating resource. (haslerhistory.blogspot.com/)