Otto Yulyevich Schmidt (September 30 [O.S. September 18] 1891 — September 7, 1956) was a Soviet scientist, mathematician, astronomer, geophysicist, statesman, academician, Hero of the USSR (27 June 1937), and member of the Communist Party.
He was born in Mogilev, Russian Empire (now Belarus). His father was a descendant of German settlers in Courland, while his mother was a Latvian.
In 1913, Schmidt married Vera Yanitskaia and graduated from the University of Kiev, where he worked as a privat-docent starting from 1916. After the October Revolution of 1917, he was a board member at several People's Commissariats (narkomats) – such as Narkomprod from 1918 to 1920 (Narodnyi Komissariat Prodovolstviya, or People's Commissariat for Supplies), People's Commissariat for Finance from 1921 to 1922 (Narodnyi Komissariat Finansov, or People's Commissariat for Finances). Schmidt was one of the chief proponents of developing the higher education system, publishing, and science in Soviet Russia.
He worked at Narkompros (People's Commissariat for Education), the State Scientific Board at the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR, and the Communist Academy. Schmidt was also employed as the director of the State Publishing House (Gosizdat) from 1921 to 1924, and chief editor of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia from 1924 to 1941. From 1923 he was a professor at the Second Moscow State University and later at the Moscow State University, and from 1930 to 1932, Schmidt was the head of the Arctic Institute.
From 1932–1939, he was appointed head of Glavsevmorput' (Glavnoe upravlenie Severnogo Morskogo Puti) – an establishment that oversaw all commercial operations on the Northern Sea Route. From 1939 to 1942, Schmidt became a vice-president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, where he organized the Institute of Theoretical Geophysics (he was its director until 1949). Otto Schmidt was a founder of the Moscow Algebra School, which he directed for many years.
In the mid-1940s, Schmidt suggested a new cosmogonical hypothesis on the formation of the Earth and other planets of the Solar system, which he continued to develop together with a group of Soviet scientists until his death.
Schmidt was a celebrated explorer of the Arctic. In 1929 and 1930, he led expeditions on the steam icebreaker Georgy Sedov, establishing the first scientific research station on the Franz Josef Land, exploring the northwestern parts of the Kara Sea and western coasts of Severnaya Zemlya, and discovering a few islands.
In 1932, Schmidt's expedition on the steam icebreaker Sibiryakov with Captain Vladimir Voronin made a non-stop voyage from Arkhangelsk to the Pacific Ocean without wintering for the first time in history.
From 1933 to 1934, Schmidt led the voyage of the steamship Cheliuskin, also with Captain Vladimir Voronin, along the Northern Sea Route. In 1937, he supervised an airborne expedition that established a drift-ice station "North Pole-1". In 1938, he was in charge of evacuating its personnel from the ice.
Otto Schmidt was a member of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR and a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of the first convocation. He was awarded three Orders of Lenin, three other orders and many medals. An island in the Kara Sea, a cape on the coastline of the Chukchi Sea, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Institute of the Earth Physics at the Soviet Academy of Science and others bear Schmidt's name.