Will Thompson's parents were Pirrie Thompson and Janet Clarissa Crooks. He had one brother and four sisters. When Will was perhaps eight or ten years old the family moved to Melrose, MN in order to be close to schools. In 1902 his father was transferred to Everett, WA. Will finished high school there, a precocious student whose biology and math teachers became mentors. He graduated as valedictorian, then attended the University of Washington in Seattle for three years.
In 1909 he was offered a position as research assistant to David Starr Jordan, the president of Stanford University and a world famous ichthyologist. This position allowed him half time for studies. He received a BA degree in Zoology, followed by graduate studies and increasingly important fisheries research. During this period he was asked to investigate the Pacific halibut fishery of British columbia. He travelled to sea with the halibut fishermen and single-handedly performed an exhaustive study of the industry. Based on his research, a treaty was signed by the United States and Canada that created a commission to stop the halibut depletion.
He also studied the "running of the grunion", a tiny fish that would come ashore at high tide in huge numbers. Local residents would scoop them up by the bucketful. As it turned out, these fish were spawning on the beach, their eggs covered by the sand until the next high tide caused the eggs to hatch.
Will and Julia Bell's four children were born in California. The family moved to Seattle in 1925 when he became the director of the newly created International Fisheries Commission at the U. of Washington. There he continued to study the halibut, and also the salmon. He greatly advanced knowledge of the life cycle of the salmon and of the obstacles to the spawning cycle in the rivers and streams of the US and Canada. His work helped to limit the salmon catch during spawning by banning the practice of stretching nets across a river in front of the salmon.
He earned a Ph.D. from Stanford in 1931. In 1934 he became the director of the School of Fisheries at the U. of Washington, where he trained graduate students from many nations of the world. from 1937 to 1943 he was director of the International Pacific Salmon Commmission which involved work on the Fraser River in Canada and summers in the rugged Alaska wilderness. In 1947 he founded the Fisheries Research Institute at the U. of Washington. He has been called the "father of American fisheries biology".
WFT retired in 1958 at age 70, although he continued to be active in research. He was also a gifted photographer who used his skills for research. He provided quality photos of his family that are used in this web project. And he produced exquisite flower pictures in a joint hobby with his wife, Julia Bell.