New York Zoological Park. Offices of Director and Department of Herpetology Curator. James A. Oliver records
Scope and Contents
The collection consists of James Oliver's professional and administrative correspondence, observational and experimental research notes, and compiled reference material spanning from his graduate studies at the University of Michigan through his tenure at the New York Zoological Park. The correspondence documents both Oliver's involvement with herpetologists from the academic, museum, and zoo communities—including Oliver's tenure on the editorial board for Copeia, the journal of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists—and his work as Assistant and then Associate Curator of Reptiles at the American Museum of Natural History, Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Florida, Gaineseville, and Herpetology Curator, Assistant Director, and Director of the New York Zoological Park (better known as the Bronx Zoo). In addition to correspondence files the collection also includes subject files with notes, logbooks and other research data, photographs, maps, etc., as well as a set of data sheets on snake species worldwide. Finaly, the collection also includes a few letters from Oliver's time as Director of the American Museum of Natural History and a small set of photographs from throughout the first half of his career.
- Circa 1926-1963
- Majority of material found within 1938 - 1959
Please consult the WCS Archives regarding possible access restrictions.
Please consult the WCS Archives regarding possible usage restrictions.
During the course of his career James A. Oliver held various positions at some of New York City's most prominent science institutions, specifically at the American Museum of Natural History [AMNH] and at the New York Zoological Society's Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium.
While growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, James Oliver kept reptiles from an early age and, during his teenage years, worked with Marlin Perkins, who at the time was the Herpetology Curator at the St. Louis Zoo. Oliver received his collegiate and post-graduate education at the University of Michigan; in the course of that work he went on reptile collecting expeditions for the University's Museum of Zoology—University President and former Museum Director Alexander Ruthven chaired his dissertation committee—and became friends with many leading and/or up-and-coming herpetologists, including Helen Thompson Gaige and Norman Hartweg. Upon obtaining his doctorate in 1942, the Chairman of AMNH's Department of Herpetology, Charles M. Bogert, hired Oliver as Assistant Curator of Herpetology. Oliver's tenure at AMNH—where he eventually became Associate Curator—was interrupted by his service in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War. In 1948 Oliver left AMNH for an assistant professorship in the University of Florida's Biology Department; after three years, in 1951, the New York Zoological Society [NYZS] hired him away from that position to return to New York City as the New York Zoological Park's Curator of Herpetology.
At the New York Zoological Park—more commonly known as the Bronx Zoo—Oliver thrived. Under his direction the Herpetology Department's animal collections and research efforts flourished and he had the Reptile House thoroughly renovated and modernized. Oliver was part of several notable projects, including the first breeding and rearing of king cobras in captivity, collecting and research trips in the field, and the founding of both the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and the New York Herpetological Society. Snakes, and especially venomous snakes, were a particular focus of his work, and the subject of the most famous of his numerous popular and academic written works, Snakes in Fact and Fiction (1958). At the same time, Oliver also held several leadership positions in outside organizations, including the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, where he served on the editorial board for the journal Copeia.
In 1956, Bronx Zoo Director John Tee Van vacated that position to concentrate on his work as the Society's General Director. In 1958 Oliver, who had been named the Zoo's Assistant Director in the interim, was promoted to Director of the Zoo. Oliver stayed in that position for a year before leaving in the summer of 1959 to return to the American Museum of Natural History as its Director. After a decade (1959-1969) at AMNH, Oliver came back to NYZS, this time as Director of the New York Aquarium, from which he retired in 1976.
For more information on Oliver's later career, see the finding aid for collection 3011: New York Aquarium Director James A. Oliver records, 1966-1977 (bulk 1970-1976). 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.
James Oliver Career Chronology
- BA, University of Michigan
- MA, University of Michigan
- PhD, University of Michigan
- 1942, 1946-1948
- Assistant/Associate Curator, American Museum of Natural History
- Service in WWII
- Assistant Professor, University of Florida
- Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History
- Herpetology Curator, New York Zoological Park (also Curator of Insects, 1951-1952)
- Director, New York Zoological Park
- Director, American Museum of Natural History
- Director, New York Aquarium
6 Linear Feet (15 Hollinger boxes)
Language of Materials
After having received his doctorate at the University of Michigan, James A. Oliver was hired as Assistant Curator of Herpetology at the American Museum of Natural History. In 1948 Oliver left the Museum for the University of Florida's Biology Department; after three years the New York Zoological Society hired him to be the Bronx Zoo's Curator of Herpetology. Under his direction the Zoo's herpetological collections and research efforts flourished; Oliver also renovated and modernized the Zoo's Reptile House and held leadership positions in national organizations such as the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. In 1958 Oliver was promoted to Director of the Zoo, a position he left after a year in order to return to the American Museum of Natural History. The collection contains Oliver's professional correspondence from the 1930s as a student at the University of Michigan through 1959, when he left the Bronx Zoo, as well as subject files with notes, logbooks and other research data, photographs, maps, etc., and a set of data sheets on snake species worldwide.
This collection is arranged in four series; Series 1 has five subseries and Series 3 has three subseries:
- Series 1
- James A. Oliver papers, 1935-1951
- Subseries 1A
- 1935-1945 Correspondence and subject files, 1935-1945 (bulk 1938-1943)
- Subseries 1B
- 1946-1947 Correspondence files, 1946-1947
- Subseries 1C
- 1947-1948 Correspondence files, 1947-1948
- Subseries 1D
- 1949-1950 Correspondence files, 1948-1950 (bulk 1949-1950)
- Subseries 1E
- 1950-1951 Correspondence files, 1950-1951
- Series 2
- Photographs, circa 1945-1959
- Series 3
- James A. Oliver New York Zoological Park records, circa 1926-1959 (bulk 1951-1959)
- Subseries 3A
- Correspondence, 1951-1959
- Subseries 3B
- Subject files, circa 1926-1959 (bulk 1950s)
- Subseries 3C
- Snake species files, circa 1950s
- Series 4
- : James A. Oliver American Museum of Natural History correspondence, 1959-1963
Other Finding Aids
The Wildlife Conservation Society Archives holds additional descriptive information pertaining to this collection; please contact the archivist for more detail.
Internal transfer, 1982 (Acc. 1982.005).
Gifts, 1982 (Acc. 1982. 008, 1982.022).
Gifts, 1983 (Acc. 1983.014, 1983.017).
- American Museum of Natural History
- American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
- New York Zoological Park
- New York Zoological Society
- New York Zoological Society
- New York Zoological Society. Herpetology Department
- Oliver, James A. (James Arthur), 1914-1981
- University of Florida. Department of Biology
- Zoo directors
- Zoos -- Administration
- Zoos -- Employees
- Guide to the Records of NYZP Director and Herpetology Curator James A. Oliver Records, circa 1926-1963 (bulk 1938-1959)
- 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
- The National Historical Publications and Records Commission Access to Historical Records grant program
Part of the Wildlife Conservation Society Archives Repository
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