New York Aquarium. Office of Director. James A. Oliver records
Scope and Content
The collection contains NYA Director James Oliver’s general correspondence with the public and his internal administrative files. The correspondents in the general files include Aquarium visitors; local Coney Island, Brooklyn, and New York City metropolitan area officials and organizations; colleagues from the zoo/aquarium, museum, and conservation fields; and members of the general public with questions about various aquarium-related topics. Notable topics include proposed expansions and facility improvements at the Aquarium, Oliver’s involvement with and leadership positions in national and international organizations, and the state of the zoo, aquarium, museum, and conservation fields.
The NYA administrative files include memos and other correspondence, reports, announcements, factsheets, and similar documents pertaining to the day-to-day administration of the New York Aquarium during Oliver’s tenure as Director. Topics of note include the relation of the Aquarium to its parent organization, the New York Zoological Society, the Aquarium’s Curatorial, Education, Graphics, and Maintenance Departments, and the ongoing efforts to build a Whale and Dolphin Arena at the Aquarium.
- 1966 - 1977
- Majority of material found within 1970 - 1976
During the course of his career James A. Oliver held various positions at some of New York City’s most prominent science museums, specifically at the American Museum of Natural History and at the New York Zoological Society [NYZS]’s Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium.
In June 1970, after a celebrated career at the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Zoological Park (better known as the Bronx Zoo), Oliver came back to NYZS, this time as Director of the New York Aquarium. During his tenure at the Aquarium, which lasted until he retired on doctor’s orders in May 1976, Oliver oversaw the institution’s day-to-day management. Oliver shepherded the Aquarium through an era of increasingly limited resources as NYZS felt progressively more pressured by New York City’s changing demographics and famously dire financial straits.
Meanwhile, Oliver held leadership positions in several city, national, and international cultural and scientific organizations. He helped found and was a long-time member of the Board of Directors of both the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and the Bahamas National Trust, and was a Council member and committee chair of the American Association of Museums, President of BIOSIS (the Biosciences Information Service of Biological Abstracts), a founding member of New York City’s Cultural Institutions Group, on the Council of the Brooklyn Arts and Culture Association, Vice-Chairman of the American Committee for International Wild Life Protection, and more.
After his retirement Oliver was succeeded in the Directorship by George D. Ruggieri, SJ, who had previously been the Aquarium’s Assistant Director as well as Director of its Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences. Oliver was named Director Emeritus of both the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Zoological Society, and continued his activities with the Bahamas National Trust and the Caribbean Conservation Corporation until his death in 1981.
For more information on Oliver’s early career, including a career chronology, see the finding aid for collection 2027: New York Zoological Park Director and Herpetology Curator James A. Oliver records, circa 1926-1959 (bulk 1938-1959). Further information on Oliver—including a bibliography of his writings, a list of species named after him, and additional achievements—can be found in his Wikipedia biography and in his New York Times obituary. For more information on the history of the Aquarium, including chronologies of its Directors and Curators, see the finding aids for Collection 3001: New York Aquarium records, circa 1900-1998 (bulk 1960-1990), and Collection 3054: New York Aquarium Senior Staff records, 1955-1979 (bulk 1964-1979).
2.8 Linear Feet (7 Hollinger boxes)
Language of Materials
- Series 1
- General correspondence, 1970-1976
- Series 2
- Administrative files, 1966-1977 (bulk 1970-1976)
- Subseries 2A
- Staff correspondence, 1970-1976
- Subseries 2B
- Departmental correspondence, 1970-1976 (bulk 1971-1973)
- Subseries 2C
- Subject files, 1966-1977 (bulk 1970-1976)
Other Finding Aids
Two Hollinger boxes (0.8 linear feet) of snake species files compiled in the 1950s transferred to Collection 2027: James Oliver New York Zoological Park records.
Three files of William Flynn memos and other correspondence (1973-1978) transferred to Flynn’s series in Collection 3054: NYA Senior Staff records.
One file, containing a 1978 report by Karen Bjorndal on turtle conservation at Union Creek Reserve in the Bahamas, that was still addressed to James Oliver transferred to his successor George Ruggieri’s collection, 3008.
One file of personnel records (1967-1968) from Ross Nigrelli’s tenure as NYA Director and one file of visitor correspondence (1977, during George Ruggieri's tenure as Director) transferred to Collection 3001: NYZS Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences and New York Aquarium records.
One item transferred to the WCS Library’s subject file on James Oliver. (A copy of The Flounders: Fifty Years, by Clark Hopkins, a 1976 history of the University of Michigan’s amateur grad student/faculty water polo team, the Flounders, on which Oliver and some of his correspondents, most notably Joseph Reeve Bailey, played over the decades.)
- Guide to the Records of NYA Director James A. Oliver Records, 1966-1977 (bulk 1970-1976)
- Leilani Dawson
- October 2016
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note
- 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.