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New York Zoological Society. Office of President. Fairfield Osborn records

Identifier: 1029

Scope and Contents

This collection reflects the activities of Fairfield Osborn during his long history with the New York Zoological Society, which began with his election to the Board of Trustees in 1923, followed by his tenures as NYZS Secretary (1935-1940) and President (1940-1968). The bulk of the materials consists of annual correspondence and concerns all aspects of the Society’s activities, including management of the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium as well as its international conservation activities. Also within the collection are subject files concerning wildlife conservation in Africa, the Conservation Foundation, the NYZS Conservation Committee and Conservation Account, the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences, the 1939-1940 World’s Fair, and the filmmaking activities of William Eddy. Finally, the collection includes speeches and writings by Osborn, including materials related to the publication of his 1944 edited collection The Pacific World, as well as biographical materials.

Note that there is significant overlap between the Correspondence and Subject file series in this collection. For instance, while the Africa subseries of the Subject files series contains several “Gorilla project” files related to George Schaller and John Emlen’s mountain gorilla studies and dated between 1959 and 1964, the Correspondence series contains “Gorilla study” files related to the same work and dated between 1957 and 1959. Similarly, although there is a Conservation Foundation subseries in the Subject files series, there is material concerning the Conservation Foundation throughout the Correspondence series.

It should also be noted that, across the collection, letters were sometimes filed by the correspondent’s last name and sometimes by the organization with which he or she was affiliated.

See the Scope and Contents notes for each series for further information.


  • 1933 - 1973


Access Restrictions

Please consult the WCS Archives regarding possible access restrictions.

Use Restrictions

Please consult the WCS Archives regarding possible usage restrictions.

Biographical Note

Henry Fairfield Osborn Jr. (January 15, 1887-September 16, 1969, called Fairfield or Fair), was the longest-serving President of the New York Zoological Society, holding the position from 1940 until 1968 after having joined the NYZS Board of Trustees in 1923. Osborn could be said to have been raised with the Society, as his father, Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857-1935), was one of NYZS’s founders and himself served as President from 1909 to 1925.

Prior to Fairfield Osborn’s election to the NYZS presidency, he served as the Society’s Secretary (1935-1940). One of his last tasks in that position was to oversee the Society’s pavilion at the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in Queens. The exhibit, which included crowd favorites such as the Bathysphere in which NYZS’s William Beebe and his collaborator Otis Barton made their record-setting undersea explorations, the giant panda Pandora from the Bronx Zoo, and an electric eel exhibit from the New York Aquarium, was by most measures a success.

Upon taking over as President, Osborn expanded NYZS both at home and abroad. On the Zoo and Aquarium front, Osborn was, along with the Bronx Zoo’s General Directors, one of the driving forces behind the development of several major exhibits at the Zoo. Additionally, he was a strong supporter of creating a new building for the New York Aquarium, whose original location at Battery Park had been shut down by Robert Moses in 1941, forcing the Aquarium to operate out of temporary tanks in the Lion House of the Bronx Zoo until the opening of the new Aquarium at Coney Island in 1957. The research scientists that had been housed at the old Aquarium were also forced to find temporary quarters during its closure, and the Society rented laboratories at the American Museum of Natural History to accommodate them. Osborn successfully advocated for a proper set of marine laboratories sited at the Aquarium for these scientists. When this building opened in 1967, it was named the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences (OLMS) in his honor.

Beyond New York City, Osborn was equally committed to the conservation of wildlife and wild places in the United States and across the globe. He drove NYZS to increase its commitment to field conservation from the passion of a few dedicated individuals to an institution-wide endeavor. Under his auspices, NYZS started funding several outside researchers’ field projects each year; these efforts would eventually grow into WCS’s current robust Global Conservation Program. Meanwhile Osborn both kindled and harnessed the philanthropic urge to support these efforts in his fellow NYZS trustees by working with them to establish the Conservation Foundation with a mandate to raise awareness about threats to the environment.

Regarded as one of the foremost conservationists of his era, Osborn was a frequent lecturer to groups concerned with environmental issues, and he published several popular articles and books on the threats of human activity to the natural world. His books Our Plundered Planet (1948) and The Limits of the Earth (1953) argued for the importance of man’s cooperation with nature, the protection of natural resources, and limits to the world’s population. Prior to these, he had served as editor of The Pacific World (1944), a publication intended to provide American soldiers stationed in the Pacific during World War II with information about the area’s oceans, land, peoples, and animals.


30.8 Linear Feet (78 Hollinger boxes)

1.5 Cubic Feet (4 flat boxes)

4 Items (Oversize)

Language of Materials



This collection contains the records of Fairfield Osborn, who served as President of the New York Zoological Society from 1940 to 1968. Considered one of the foremost conservationists of his era, Osborn was a driving force behind the expansion of the Society’s international wildlife conservation efforts, and he founded the Conservation Foundation as an offshoot of the Society to promote environmental education and research. During his presidency, Osborn also oversaw the development of several new Bronx Zoo exhibits as well as the closing of the New York Aquarium in 1941 at its original location in Battery Park and its subsequent reopening in 1957 at Coney Island. Prior to his NYZS presidency, in the role of NYZS Secretary, Osborn oversaw the Society’s exhibit at the 1939-1940 World’s Fair. This collection reflects this range of activities and includes annual correspondence as well as subject files, writings, and biographical records.


This collection is arranged in four series, as listed below:

Series 1: Correspondence, 1933-1970

Subseries 1A: Correspondence, 1933-1942

Subseries 1B: Correspondence, 1943-1956

Subseries 1C: Correspondence, 1957-1962

Subseries 1D: Correspondence, 1963-1970

Series 2: Subject files, 1936-1973

Subseries 2A: Africa, 1956-1973

Subseries 2B: Conservation Foundation, 1949-1956

Subseries 2C: New York Zoological Society Conservation Committee and Conservation Account, 1937-1962

Subseries 2D: Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences, 1961-1965

Subseries 2E: William Eddy, 1959-1965

Subseries 2F: World’s Fair, 1936-1940

Series 3: Writings and related work, 1942-1968

Subseries 3A: Articles and speeches, 1942-1968

Subseries 3B: The Pacific World, 1943-1944

Series 4: Biographical, 1949-1969

Accession Information

Internal transfers, 1979, 1980, 2013 (Acc. 1979.013, 1979.022, 1979.026, 1979.030, 1980.088, 1980.190, 2013.015).

Related Materials

Library of Congress Collection MSS51334. Fairfield Osborn papers, 1924-1969

WCS Archives Collection 1024. Conservation Committee Secretary records, 1937-1949

WCS Archives Collection 1028. William G. Conway records, 1900-2004

WCS Archives Collection 2023. Harold C. Palmer, 1902-1983

WCS Archives Collection 3001. Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences and New York Aquarium records, circa 1900-1998

Guide to the Records of New York Zoological Society President Fairfield Osborn, 1933-1973
Madeleine Thompson, with additional text from Leilani Dawson
December 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Collection processing and finding aid creation for this collection was made possible through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission Access to Historical Records grant program.

Repository Details

Part of the Wildlife Conservation Society Archives Repository

WCS Library/Archives
2300 Southern Blvd
Bronx New York 10460 United States