George was born on February 2, 1905, in Jersey City, New Jersey. He developed an early interest in vertebrate zoology, accumulating aquaria in which he kept numerous species of exotic and native fishes. At the age of 15 he published his first article on aquarium fishes. Around this time he frequented the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he sought advice on natural history questions and became a volunteer assistant from 1922 to 1924.
George worked as a part-time curatorial assistant for Carl Eigenmann at Indiana University from 1924 to 1926. He continued his ichthyological studies at Stanford University with an assistantship under David Starr Jordan in the Natural History Museum.
He received a BA degree in 1930, an MA degree in 1931, and a PhD degree in 1933 from Stanford University. His dissertation was entitled The Classification of Cyprinodont Fishes, with a Discussion of the Geographical Distribution of the Cyprinodontidae of the World.
In 1933, George began his career with the U.S. National Museum, where he was appointed assistant curator in charge of the division of fishes. His four-year tenure there was marked by fiscal constraints brought on by the depression, forcing him to conduct clerical jobs which limited his research time. In 1936, George returned to Stanford, where he accepted an appointment as an associate professor of biology and head curator of zoological collections. In 1938, he advanced to professor and remained in that position until statutory retirement in 1970.
From 1942 to 1944, George served as a special professor of ichthyology at the Museo National, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Between 1970 and 1972, he served as Henry Bryant Bigelow Visiting Professor of Ichthyology and the Alexander Agassiz Visiting Professor of Zoology at Harvard University.
George was associate editor of The Aquarium from 1932 to 1960, founder and editor of the Stanford Ichthyological Bulletin from 1938 to 1967, and managing editor of the Aquarium Journal from 1952 to 1954. He also was an active member of numerous committees and councils.
George was married to Martha Ruth Frisinger in 1926 and they had two sons; Thomas Sprague and John William. He was subsequently married to Irma Anne Block Zimmerman (1957) and Frances Edna Felin (1966).
George was elected to membership in the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1935 and remained an active member throughout his life.
He lived in Scotts Valley, California, after his retirement in 1970. He died on November 4, 1985, four months after the death of his wife Frances.