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Doctor Leonard C Sanford


Acquiring Lord Rothschild's collection
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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The 'titled lady' in England also had been active and busy, and she had been blackmailing Lord [Walter] Rothschild even worse, and he had gone into debt and he hadn't paid his taxes and the government threatened to jail him, and he got panicky and he finally decided, 'Well, the only way out is, I have to sell my collection'. So, this was 1932, the bottom year of the Depression and, of course, you would think nobody had the money to buy it. But somehow or other the trustee of the American Museum [of Natural History], Doctor Leonard C Sanford, of whom I will say more in a minute, went to his rich friends in Park Avenue and managed to raise the necessary money, and the American Museum bought the 280,000 specimens of birds that Lord Rothschild had gathered in the course of his life. So that this came this huge collection and it's great strength was in Australia, South Sea Islands, Indonesia, all these were areas that American Museum had nothing and no... nobody on the staff there had any knowledge of this area. So, lo and behold, all of a sudden, the American Museum was forced to hire me as a curator and in the second year of the non-renewable contract I was appointed associate curator of the Rothschild-Whitney collections. So that... so that the 'titled lady' first deprived me of the becoming the curate of the Rothschild collection, and then a step further, she was responsible for me ultimately to become the curator of the Rothschild collection.

The late German-American biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a leading light in the field of evolutionary biology, gaining a PhD at the age of 21. He was also a tropical explorer and ornithologist who undertook an expedition to New Guinea and collected several thousand bird skins. In 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time at the museum, aged 37, he published his seminal work 'Systematics and Origin of the Species' which integrated the theories of Darwin and Mendel and is considered one of his greatest works.

Listeners: Walter J. Bock

Walter J. Bock is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Columbia University. He received his B.Sc. from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. His research lies in the areas of organismal and evolutionary biology, with a special emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology of the skeleto-muscular system, specifically the feeding apparatus of birds.

Tags: 1932, American Museum of Natural History, Park Avenue, Australia, South Sea Islands, Indonesia, Walter Rothschild, Leonard C Sanford

Duration: 1 minute, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008