Emigration to the United States and Life in New York City

Mayr's main research in Berlin right after his return from the Solomon Islands concerned the study of his bird collections from the Saruwaget and Herzog Mountains, New Guinea (Fig. 3.1) which included a lengthy visit to the Rothschild Museum in Tring, England to compare certain specimens. In June 1930 Mayr attended the Vllth International Ornithological Congress at Amsterdam where he met many of the luminaries in ornithology, including Frank M. Chapman, chief curator of the Department of Ornithology, American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. A few months later Mayr was invited to come to New York for

Fig. 3.1. Ernst Mayr back from the South Seas has joined the "Stresemann circle" again; Museum of Natural History Berlin, 1930. From left: Hans Scharnke, Erwin Stresemann, Ernst Mayr, Max Stolpe, Georg Steinbacher (hidden), Hans Schildmacher, and Hermann Desselberger (Photograph courtesy of Henriette Desselberger, Giessen, Germany)

Fig. 3.1. Ernst Mayr back from the South Seas has joined the "Stresemann circle" again; Museum of Natural History Berlin, 1930. From left: Hans Scharnke, Erwin Stresemann, Ernst Mayr, Max Stolpe, Georg Steinbacher (hidden), Hans Schildmacher, and Hermann Desselberger (Photograph courtesy of Henriette Desselberger, Giessen, Germany)

one year to work on the bird collections of the Whitney South Sea Expedition. He did not leave Germany until the beginning of next year, having finished the report on his New Guinea bird collection. Arriving in New York on 19 January 1931 he entered the museum on the following day.

Mayr came to theUnitedStatesasanemployeeofthe Museum ofNaturalHistory of Berlin on temporary assignment of one year. When the AMNH was able to purchase the Rothschild Collection in 1932, he accepted the position of Associate Curator at the AMNH responsible, over the next several years, for organizing, cataloguing and preserving the 280,000 specimens which filled a huge number of cases. His salary had to be raised annually from the Whitney family. There was no tenure. This meant that if the Whitneys should ever stop giving the money (which, of course, never happened), he would be without a job and probably forced to go back to Germany. In view of his fascination with his work and with the institution he gladly accepted this risk.1

I emphasize that Mayr's move from Berlin to New York in 1931 had the simple reason that his position there was better, scientifically, than any he could expect in Germany (pers. comm.). Moreover, Mayr was the youngest of four assistants at the Museum in Berlin and knew that he would have to wait many years before a curatorship might open up for him. The Nazi regime which came to power in Germany in 1933 (i.e., 2 years after Mayr had arrived in New York) had nothing to do with his emigration to the United States, although Mayr was outspoken in his denouncement of this regime (see also p. 300, footnote). In addition, there was no room for a second major ornithologist in Berlin and probably not in all of Germany, next to Professor Stresemann. Their careers might have "collided," as Mayr thought in retrospect (pers. comm.; Bock 1994a). Moreover, Mayr would have had little chance of surviving World War II had he stayed in Germany.

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