Based on a suggestion by Dr. L. C. Sanford, trustee of the AMNH who had consulted in this matter with Hartert and Stresemann2, Dr. Frank M. Chapman (1864-1945), head of the Department of Ornithology of the AMNH, offered Ernst Mayr, in October 1930, a position in New York as Visiting Research Associate for one year
1 The Whitneys paid Mayr's salary until he left for Harvard University in 1953. He received an annual salary of $2,500 in 1931, $4,000 in 1932-1933, $4,500 in 1934, $5,000 from 1935 to 1944 and $6,540 starting in 1945 (M. LeCroy, pers. comm.).
2 In January 1930, while the Whitney Expedition was in the Solomon Islands, Dr. Sanford, forever making enthusiastic plans and fully informed, through H. Hamlin, about E. Mayr, had already written to E. Hartert (Tring) regarding a further expedition to New Guinea: "If we wait until later we might have the chance of bringing Mayr home, resting him and sending him back. Personally he appeals to me more than any one else. Talk the matter over with Lord Rothschild." At the same time, Rothschild had decided to offer the position of curator of his museum to Mayr as successor to Hartert who retired in April of that year (Mayr 1984f). This plan, however, had to be dropped when Rothschild was in financial difficulties (p. 116).
to commence upon completion of his expedition report. Mayr gladly accepted this offer, because he knew that large unworked collections from the Pacific islands had been assembled there over the past decade. He left Germany in early January 1931. After spending two days in Tring (England) to study Solomon Island birds and to finish some of his New Guinea work, he left Southampton by the "Bremen" on January 15th arriving in New York on the 19th. Prior to his departure, he had written to Dr. Murphy from Tring on January 8th: "I think it is better nobody comes to take me off the steamer, because he might have to wait too long. To pass through those immigration officers takes an awful long time, I heard." Mayr "had arranged for a room at the International House located on Riverside Drive close to Columbia University and forty blocks north of the AMNH. Before he left Germany, Mayr talked to German colleagues who had recently visited New York, and learned that he could walk four blocks from the pier in Brooklyn to the closest subway station. He did so carrying his two suitcases, found his way through the New York City subway system, which involved several changes of trains, and reached the International House safely. The next day he made his way to the AMNH, again by subway, and reported for duty at the Department of Ornithology, totally surprising all members of the department. Their surprise was greatly increased upon learning that he had not made use of taxis in getting from the pier to International House and the next day to the museum. Clearly anyone who is able to plan his arrival in New York in such detail and with such determination will be successful in his career" (Bock 1994a: 280). Mayr reported to Stresemann (transl.):
Tabeh kakaku,3 21 January 1931
Sitting next to [J. T.] Zimmer I announce my arrival at the American Museum. The "Bremen" will leave for Germany tonight, therefore I must hurry. Murphy is not around at the moment, will come in the afternoon, Chapman is on Barro Colorado [Island, Panamá] until April, Sanford also that long in Florida; this means bright prospects. Had already good conversations with Zimmer and Mrs. Naumburg. The voyage was pleasant despite stormy weather (the wind fell below 6 only once, mostly 7-8). I was one of the few passengers who were not seasick. I found good accommodation in the International House, which costs me about $32 per week. New York did not impress me much; not very different from other big cities, only dirtier. You cannot beat Berlin. In a hurry cordial greetings adek.
Mayr was completely free on which collections from the southwest Pacific he wanted to work and in which sequence. Such independence from supervision greatly enhanced his admiration both for the American way of doing things, and for his boss Dr. Chapman. Mayr's first article (on Halcyon chloris, 1931b) was published on March 31 and before Chapman and Sanford returned to New York. To extend Mayr's assignment Chapman wrote to Berlin a few months later: "Dr. Ernst Mayr is rendering us invaluable cooperation in the study of our large
3 "Dear Kaka." Regarding the use of "kaka" (older brother, Stresemann) and "adek"
(younger brother, Mayr) see p. 41.
collections of Polynesian birds, research for which he is especially qualified by his field experience while a member of our South Sea Expedition" (8 October 1931) and requested an extension of his leave of absence for another six months which was granted on 12 November. When the Rothschild collection began to arrive in New York in the spring of 1932, Mayr got the position of Associate Curator of the Whitney-Rothschild collections without limit of time and terminated his employment in Berlin, effective on 31 July 1932.4
As Mayr recalled (pers. comm.), he encountered a certain amount of jealousy among young American ornithologists who in the depression years were without a job and quite naturally resented a German "intruder." However, everybody more or less realized that he was indeed the person best qualified for this position. He was elected a Fellow of the AOU remarkably early (1937) and later never had any problems when organizing meetings, societies and journals in evolutionary biology. Mayr was a staff member of the AMNH until 1953, when he accepted an offer as an Alexander Agassiz professor at the Museum of Comparative Zoology of Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts).
In an interview on the occasion of his forthcoming 100th birthday, Mayr related in detail how he came to be attached to the Whitney South Sea Expedition in the Solomon Islands, how he was offered a position in New York and which projects he worked on there; he also described his colleagues in the bird department and his influence on the development of American ornithology (Bock and Lein 2005; CD-ROM in Ornithological Monograph 58). Mayr also recounted his life story for Peoples Archive, a London-based company that filmed the reminiscences of famous scientists and artists (www.peoplesarchive.com).
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