Edward "Ed" Flanders Robb Ricketts was a prominent ecologist, marine biologist, and philosopher, but he is most commonly remembered for being the close friend of John Steinbeck and the figure upon whom Steinbeck modeled the character of "Doc" in Cannery Row.
Ricketts was born in Chicago on May 14th, 1897 to an accountant father and a well-heeled mother. His became interested in biology at the age of six when his uncle gave him an old zoology textbook. In high school, Ricketts further immersed himself in the study of zoology and biology. He then attended Illinois State Normal University for a year, but he felt stifled there and moved to Texas, where he began working at a country club in El Paso.
Ricketts wanted to fight in World War I, but he was rejected for his flat feet. He eventually became a clerk for the Medical Corps. After the war ended, he matriculated at the University of Chicago, but he did not attend classes regularly and left after three years without a degree. Ricketts's main influence at the university was Dr. Warder Clyde Allee, a prominent ecologist.
Ricketts moved to California with an old roommate in 1923, and he founded the Pacific Biological Laboratories in Pacific Grove. There, Ricketts and his roommate collected specimens for and provided slides to research institutions. In 1928, the laboratory moved to Ocean View Avenue in Monterey. There, Ricketts spent time writing papers.
Ricketts was married to a woman named Anna and they had three children. However, their marriage was troubled, and Ricketts moved into his lab in 1936. Soon thereafter, a fire broke out and destroyed almost everything there, but thankfully a paper he was working on –"Between the Pacific Tides" – was at Stanford awaiting publication. That paper sealed Ricketts's fame, and it is still used in many courses today.
Through Pacific Biological Laboratories, Ed Ricketts met many notable intellectuals, artists, and authors, including Joseph Campbell, Henry Miller, and John Steinbeck. His friendship with Steinbeck was deep and lifelong. They traveled the country together and developed a philosophical framework about living life as it is. Ricketts became the inspiration for several of Steinbeck's characters, but he also continued his own studies of marine life. Ricketts was also known for his innovative filing system and his research on sardines.
Ricketts and Anna separated in the 1930s and he married again in 1948. On May 8th, 1948 he was driving his car over railroad tracks and was struck by a train. He was in a coma for three days and died on May 11th. Over two hundred people attended his funeral, including many of the "lower sorts."
In 1994 Pacific Grove renamed High Street, where his first lab was located, "Ricketts Row".