Curator of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History

For over 10 years Mayr worked mainly on bird collections of the Whitney South Sea Expedition from Polynesia and Melanesia, on collections from many areas in New Guinea, the Malay Archipelago and from southeastern Asia. A steady stream of articles and books documented his research activities.

Mayr also assembled general data for a comprehensive analysis of geographical variation and speciation in birds for which purpose the large collections of the Whitney South Sea Expedition from the islands of Oceania and of various expeditions to New Guinea were unusually well suited. There was no better qualified ornithologist to work on this rich material than Ernst Mayr whose scientific interests had been directed toward taxonomic and evolutionary topics by Stresemann and Rensch at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin. Without realizing it, he carried out in New York the suggestions he had written to Stresemann in May 1924 (pp. 27-28).

The natural history museum of New York City is located along Central Park West, between 77th and 81st Streets (Fig. 3.6). Since the 1930s its bird collections had become the most comprehensive and most representative in the world and the Department of Ornithology the foremost center of research. Numerous scientists from all over the world came to study the collections in conjunction with their own projects. The department occupies an entire eight-story building called the Whitney Wing in honor of its patron Harry Payne Whitney (however, the Biology of Birds Hall has been replaced by a Geology Hall in 2000). In early 1929, Whitney had contributed stock worth half the cost of the building, or $750,000, with the understanding that New York City provide for the other half. As Mary LeCroy (2005: 39) related the story: "For once, the city acted quickly and okayed the matching funds by the summer. The museum's comptroller rushed out and sold the stock against the advice of many, and he had the cash in hand when the stock market crashed in the late summer of 1929!" Construction of the Whitney wing began in April 1931 (Fig. 3.7), the collections and offices were transferred to the new Whitney Wing during 1933-1935. However, the official opening and dedication of the building took place only after the completion of the adjacent "Rotunda," the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, in 1939. After the purchase, in 1932, of the Rothschild Collection, the department held about 700,000 birds. Today the collections comprise ca 1 million specimens representing more than 99% of all known species of birds (Lanyon 1995; Vuilleumier 2001).

Fig. 3.6. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City, a red brick structure in the Victorian Gothic style built from 1874 to 1877. The Theodore Roosevelt memorial (the Rotunda) and the Whitney Wing (to the right) were added during the 1930s. Ernst Mayr's office from 1935 onward was located in the right hand (northeastern) corner of the Whitney Wing on the 4th floor (large windows). Aerial view over the Museum westward with the Hudson River in the background. Photograph taken in 1957 (AMNH Library photographic collection, negative no. 125037)

Fig. 3.6. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City, a red brick structure in the Victorian Gothic style built from 1874 to 1877. The Theodore Roosevelt memorial (the Rotunda) and the Whitney Wing (to the right) were added during the 1930s. Ernst Mayr's office from 1935 onward was located in the right hand (northeastern) corner of the Whitney Wing on the 4th floor (large windows). Aerial view over the Museum westward with the Hudson River in the background. Photograph taken in 1957 (AMNH Library photographic collection, negative no. 125037)

Mayr would have had several opportunities to go out again on expeditions, but F. M. Chapman, Chairman of the department, firmly pointed out to him, that he was paid from the Whitney Fund to work on the Whitney Collections. To compensate for these restrictions, Mayr in his free time did quite a bit of bird-watching and fieldwork around New York, especially during the late 1930s and in 1940. In 1932, he had contacted the group of geneticists at Columbia University (New York) in conjunction with his studies of avian plumages. These contacts and those with Th. Dobzhansky in California guided him to general systematic and evolutionary problems on which he began to lecture in late 1939 ("Speciation phenomena in birds") followed by the Jesup Lectures on evolution at Columbia University in 1941, the foundation of his major work: Systematics and the Origin of Species from the Viewpoint of a Zoologist (1942e). He became very active as a member and secretary of the Society for the Study of Evolution (1946), first editor of its journal Evolution (1947-1949) and president (1950). Now an authority on evolutionary biology he was invited by various universities as a lecturer or visiting professor (e.g., Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, 1947; University of Minnesota, 1949; Columbia University, New York 1950-1953; University of Wash-

Fig. 3.7. Groundbreaking for the Whitney Wing of the American Museum of Natural History, 17 April 1931. H.F. Osborn, President of the AMNH, uses a bronze shovel (now in the Department's archives) in the ceremonial onset of construction of the building. Members of the Department of Ornithology present are (to the left of the President) R. C. Murphy, Alice K. Fraser (secretary), E. Mayr, Katherine Johns (secretary), C. O'Brien, and J. T. Zimmer (AMNH Library photographic collection, a portion of negative no. 313534)

Fig. 3.7. Groundbreaking for the Whitney Wing of the American Museum of Natural History, 17 April 1931. H.F. Osborn, President of the AMNH, uses a bronze shovel (now in the Department's archives) in the ceremonial onset of construction of the building. Members of the Department of Ornithology present are (to the left of the President) R. C. Murphy, Alice K. Fraser (secretary), E. Mayr, Katherine Johns (secretary), C. O'Brien, and J. T. Zimmer (AMNH Library photographic collection, a portion of negative no. 313534)

ington, 1952). Mayr turned down several employment offers by various universities, partly with regard to Dr. Sanford who had done so much for him. When Sanford died in 1950 and Harvard University offered him a research professorship in 1953, Mayr felt that he now was free to accept and joined the staff of the Museum of Comparative Zoology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His Alexander Agassiz Professorship was not restricted to the Bird Department, but was a position in the Museum of Comparative Zoology as a whole.

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