New York Zoological Society. Office of President. Fairfield Osborn records
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
- Osborn, Fairfield, 1887-1969 (Person)
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Please consult the WCS Archives regarding possible usage restrictions.
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
Internal transfers, 1979, 1980, 2013 (Acc. 1979.013, 1979.022, 1979.026, 1979.030, 1980.088, 1980.190, 2013.015).
- Conservation Foundation
- Marine laboratories
- New York Aquarium
- New York World's Fair (1939-1940 : New York, N.Y.)
- New York Zoological Park
- New York Zoological Society
- New York Zoological Society
- New York Zoological Society. Conservation Committee
- New York Zoological Society. Department of Tropical Research
- New York Zoological Society. Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences
- Public aquariums
- Public aquariums -- Administration
- Public aquariums -- Design and construction
- Wildlife conservation
- Wildlife conservation -- Africa
- Wildlife conservationists
- Wildlife research
- Zoo exhibits
- Zoos -- Administration
- Zoos -- Design and construction
- Zoos -- Employees
- 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
- Code for undetermined script
- 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.