Author Archives: Emma Curtis

A pacific world

An interesting feature of the records of former New York Zoological Society (NYZS) President Fairfield Osborn Jr. is his creative output: the numerous speeches, articles, books, and other such works he produced during his tenure as President at the Society, from 1940 to the late 1960s.

One such work is The Pacific World, a publication whose purpose was to provide zoological and natural history information to American soldiers that were stationed in the Pacific during the Second World War.

The Pacific World was published in two editions, one for the consumption of the general public and one for the armed services, as a series of small pamphlets. In the 1944 annual report of the Society, President Osborn declared that the series would prove to be an important contribution to zoology and natural history related literature. The effort was intended to encourage those serving overseas to play a role in conserving the biodiversity found in the oceans, lands, skies, and islands of the Pacific Ocean.

The work was published in 1944 by the American Committee for International Wild Life Protection (ACIWLP), an organization concerned with the promotion of the conservation of endangered species and other wildlife in their original habitats around the globe.

1. Illustrated preliminary chart by William Beebe noting the range and variety of mammals among the islands of the Pacific, 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.

President Osborn served as the publication’s editor, bringing together a number NYZS contributors (including NYZS’s Executive Secretary John Tee Van, William Beebe of the Department of Tropical Research, Donald Mercy of NYZS’s Education Department), as well as contributors from well-known American scientific and educational institutions such as the American Geographic Society, the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Smithsonian Institution, and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).

2. Correspondence, instructions with sample chart, and research materials noting the advice and guidance of Curator Wm. H. Barton, Jr. at AMNH’s Department of Astronomy on a proposed star chart of the Pacific region (the final version was later published in the chapter Stars Over Melanesia within the 1944 publication of The Pacific World), November 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.

While the publication is a product of its time, in that it expresses the particular ethnocentric views of its contributors in the descriptions and terminology used to report on the history, heritage, and culture of the communities of the Pacific, The Pacific World and its accompanying charts, maps, lists and other visual content provides an illuminating overview of environmental conditions (including land area, climate, and weather data) and the biodiversity of animal species found in the region in the mid-20th century.

3-1. Page one (pages two and three below) of a document by Herbert S. Zim giving editorial commentary on an earlier version of the publication, named Handbook of the Pacific, 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.



The WCS Archives’ Fairfield Osborn collection includes original materials relating to the production of The Pacific World that contains correspondence, final and draft copies of manuscript materials, graphs, maps, illustrations, notes and other materials.  The materials document President Obsorn’s editorial role, the relationships between NYZS and the various contributors to the project, and the production process. There is also insight into the Pacific region through additional correspondence from those in the field.

4-1. Page one (pages two and three below) of a letter from a Ralph J. Donahue to NYZS’s William Beebe with field observations on bird species in Alaska, August 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.



5. Detail of a draft chart with accompanying note illustrating data on the distribution of birds among the islands of the Pacific, circa 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.

Today WCS continues to provide educational and outreach materials to those serving in the U.S. Military in support of wildlife conservation, now through 21st-century means of information distribution and sharing.

This post is the eighth in a year-long series dedicated to WCS’s National Historical Public Records Commission (NHPRC) funded archival processing project that will make several important archival collections from the New York Zoological Society accessible for the first time.

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The World of Tomorrow, Today: Remembering the New York World’s Fair of 1939-1940

1. Photograph of the exterior of the Zoological Wonders building at the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens, circa 1939-1940. Scanned from Saving Wildlife: A Century of Conservation, page 125. Donald Letcher Goddard, Wildlife Conservation Society. 1995.

In April 1939, the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) presented their Zoological Wonders pavilion to the public at the very first New York World’s Fair. The 1939-40 Fair brought highlights from the New York Zoological Park in the Bronx and the New York Aquarium in Manhattan to Flushing Meadows in Queens. In this month’s post from our NHPRC grant project, we are presenting a selection of materials unearthed from records from the NYZOs Corporation, a former NYZS subsidiary created to coordinate the Society’s participation in the 1939-1940 World’s Fair. Fairfield Osborn Jr., the Secretary of the Society’s Executive Committee at the time, managed that participation in his last task before becoming the Society’s President in 1940. As such, the World’s Fair materials illustrate the beginning of a new era at NYZS.
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NYZS at the Rock

Excerpt from Mark Finston's article, “Towers Over Rockefeller Plaza: Huge tree finds its places in the sun” published in the Newark Star-Ledger on December 2, 1969. Text reads: “When last year's Christmas tree was hoisted, a small owl, which had apparently been living in the tree, and which had not emerged during the long ride from Canada, let out a screech. The owl was donated to the Bronx Zoo. No such animal life was discovered in this year's tree...”  From a clippings file titled "Birds, 1969". Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 2032.

At this time of year one may ask the question: “What do the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) and Rockefeller Center have in common?” As it turns out, the Society and this long-standing New York City gathering place and holiday beacon have a historical relationship–with a festive flavor. Continue reading

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Cultivating the Wild

“Generations are growing up without any natural contact with wild creatures; a new public opinion concerning wildlife and wild environment is arising unfettered and unguided by fact or experience. Except at the Zoo, the opportunities to know or even become interested in wild creatures are largely vicarious ones for many city dwellers. The opinions of these people will shape the future of wild lands and wild creatures.” -William G. Conway. General Director, 1966-1999. New York Zoological Society. (Gathering of Animals. William Bridges. 1974. Page 500.)

Frequently here at WCS Archives, I find myself reflecting on public experiences and encounters with the natural world, and the challenges of conveying rural and field perspectives and experiences in an urban context.  It is particularly true on Wednesdays, when admission to the zoo is free, and streams of families, teams of teens, as well as school groups with tethered young potential zoologists, naturalists, and conservationists come to visit, many for the first time. Continue reading

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Society Letterhead: Press Releases, 1938-1979

2032_pressrelease_nyzs_1970_2This is the fourth blog post in our series on graphic design in letterhead.

For this post, we will be showcasing examples of design found in letterhead of press releases closer to home, from the Society as a whole, as well as releases from the Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium.  Continue reading

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Nanuk: What’s in a Name?

 Archivists mine the collections and materials they process for key points of access, as gateways to gain attention and connect researchers to archival resources. Keeping in mind the needs of both the current and future generations of researchers, locations, names, dates, specific activities and events, along with other keywords get logged in the mind’s eye of processors whilst looking to make sense of the surviving records under their care. Terms like these provide valuable clues and points of entry into the materials to unearth important pathways for discovering existing relationships.  Continue reading

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“For it was never intended, from the beginning…” conservation action and advocacy at NYZS

2018_cif_brochure_back_circa1970sWCS Archives holds a number of collections that tell the story of the New York Zoological Society and its activities in the realm of public affairs. A portion of these materials relate to the former Department of Government Affairs which, from the period of the 1960s-1980s, produced records that serve to provide a snapshot into the Society’s contributions towards wildlife conservation legislation.  Continue reading

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From “Andy’s Animal Alphabet” to “The White Whales of Bristol Bay”…Processing Records from the NYZS Department of Education



As we mentioned back in December, the WCS Archives was recently awarded a major grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to process several important collections.  We’ve now started in on processing the collections, which in addition to the collections from Fairfield Osborn, Lee S. Crandall, and others that we mentioned in our initial announcement, also include records from James A. Oliver, New York Zoological Society press releases spanning most of the 20th Century, and several  hundred illustrations from the Department of Tropical Research.  

In order to complete the work, the Archives has brought on a full-time project archivist, Emma Curtis, to do the bulk of the processing.  Each month Emma will be sharing her progress and latest discoveries in a post here on Wild Things.  We’re as thrilled to have her with us as we are to be working on the grant!

These first few weeks have brought a few notable insights of New York Zoological Society’s rich history as progress begins to ramp up on tackling the thirteen previously unprocessed and under-processed collections selected from WCS Archives holdings for this project.

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