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The Rothschild collection comes to America


Helping European ornithologists after the war
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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After the war the American ornithologists were absolutely magnificent in helping starving German ornithologists – German, Austrian, whatever, over there. And they organized shipping packages, they sent thousands and thousands and thousands of packages. I know some people used their entire savings in their savings account buying care packages and sent it over there. My wife played… well, Mrs [Margaret Morse] Nice, for instance, that we mentioned earlier, Joe Hickey that we mentioned earlier, a Mrs [Frances] Hamerstrom was particularly active living in Wisconsin. And clothing, we… we… any… any suits and underwear, anything we didn't really badly need was shipped over there and of course we had to pay also postage. It was a very… but it was also time-consuming. Well, the letters came back from over there, when they were in German my wife always had to translate it because neither Mrs Nice nor Fran Hamerstrom were able to read hand written German letters. And it was one of the most heart-warming experiences of my life; the dedication and the… really the… spirit of all these people helping somebody in a foreign country in trouble. I had one… peculiar thing myself. I had one dark suit, because often for lecturing I thought I should have a dark suit, and I had a letter from Professor [Rudolf] Drost – you know the man in charge of Heligoland – that he was earning a little money by giving lectures on birds, but he needed a dark suit. So my wife said, ‘OK, there goes your dark suit’. So it was wrapped up and sent to Professor Drost. Well, in 1950 when my mentor and dear friend and sponsor [Leonard] Sanford died, I was asked to be one of the honorary pall-bearers and I didn't have a dark suit, and I got the news on Saturday and on Monday would be the funeral up in New Haven, and we went into stores to find some that would fit me and so forth. It was a terrible thing and a tailor had to work on Saturday afternoon and so I finally did get my dark suit and I was able to get to New Haven and be pall-bearer for… for Sanford. That was all… that was sort of the last after-effect of… of sending all these packages to Germany. But it… the behavior of the American ornithologists was simply wonderful.

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: World War II, Wisconsin, Heligoland, 1950, Germany, New Haven, Margaret Morse Nice, Joe Hickey, Frances Hamerstrom, Rudolf Drost, Leonard C Sanford

Duration: 2 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008