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James W. Atz papers

Identifier: Mss .A89

Scope and Contents

A portion of this collection consists of alphabetized correspondence between Dr. Atz and various professionals and organizations. Most of the letters are either personal in nature or related to research projects. There are also a number of publications, including articles, reprints, and journals. There are boxes dedicated to certain areas of research including oral brooding in cichlids, and one box of research-related items organized by species type. The material in the collection ranges approximately from 1949-2003, with the majority of the material being from 1950-1980. This collection provides information on Atz’s life, his research interests, and his work as a scientist, as well as insight into the lives and work of fellow ichthyologists.


  • 1949-2003
  • Majority of material found within 1950-1980



Please contact Special Collections; materials are sometimes restricted.

Biographical Note

James Wade Atz was born on July 23rd, 1915 in Newark, New Jersey. He received his B.A. from Cornell University in 1936 and both his M.S. in 1951 and his Ph.D. in 1959 from New York University. During his studies at NYU, he wrote his graduate thesis on narial breathing in fishes and the evolution of internal nares, and his doctoral thesis on morphological and genetic studies on the pigmentary patterns of xiphophorin fishes and their hybrids. (1) He also spent time as an Adjunct Professor of Biology at NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science beginning in 1961. Atz worked at the New York Aquarium for about 26 years, though some of these years were spent serving in the U.S. Army as a Staff Sergeant and then as a Captain from 1941-1947. (2)

Dr. Atz began his career at the New York Aquarium first as a lab technician in 1937, then as assistant curator in 1947, associate curator in 1957, and finally as a full curator in 1961. He joined the American Museum of Natural History with an honorary position as a research associate in the Department of Animal Behavior in 1960. In 1965 he moved to the Department of Ichthyology where he became an associate curator and then a full curator in 1970. In 1981 he retired and took the title of Curator Emeritus but still enjoyed coming in to the museum for research. For much of his life he resided in the town of Malverne and later Port Washington, both in Long Island, NY, with his wife Ethel Hafter to whom he was married in 1952. The pair had three children, Alison, Mical, and Joshua. James W. Atz passed away in March of 2013.

One of Dr. Atz’s most notable contributions during his time in the Department of Ichthyology was the undertaking of a comprehensive bibliography covering ichthyological literature, known as the Dean Bibliography of Fishes. (3) His main research interests included the endocrinology of fishes, oral brooding in cichlids, and the domestication of fishes and their maintenance in captivity. Other notable publications by Dr. Atz include his book Aquarium fishes: their beauty, history and care and his research done with notable ichthyologist Grace Pickford on the physiology of the pituitary gland of fishes. He was also involved in the AMNH’s acquisition and subsequent study of a Coelacanth specimen in the 1970s (see related collections).

Dr. Atz was a member of a number of organizations including the New York Zoological Society, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, the Genetics Society of America, and the American Society of Zoologists.

(1), (2) Curriculum Vitae, James Wade Atz. 1964. Folder Atz, James Wade (1915-2013) Ichthyologist. Vertical Files, American Museum of Natural History Research Library.

(3) A Brief Expedition into Science at the American Museum of Natural History. 1969. Folder Atz, James Wade (1915-2013) Ichthyologist. Vertical Files, American Museum of Natural History Research Library.


10 Linear Feet (10 boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection has been divided into two series, one for correspondence and one for research; both were minimally processed and maintain original order.


All material is in good condition, everything is intact and readable. Some papers are very thin and delicate.

Source of Acquisition

This collection was transferred to the AMNH Research Library from the Department of Ichthyology.

Related Materials

Title: Latimeria (Coelacanth) at the American Museum of Natural History, 1962-1992. Call Number: DR 078 Dr. Atz arranged this collection of correspondence, photographs, publications, and ephemera relating to the Coelacanth specimens and their arrival at the AMNH.

Title: American Museum of Natural History oral history collection, 1975-2002. Call Number: Mss .A45 O73 This collection contains cassette tape recordings of interviews with professionals who worked at AMNH, including Dr. Atz.

Title: Dean Bibliography of Fishes Call Number: QL615 .D41 Atz’s bibliography of ichthyology literature.

Physical Description

Contains mostly type written letters and printed publications.


James W. Atz papers, 1949-2003 (bulk) 1950-1980
Emily Pagano
March 2014
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation provided support to make this finding aid available in ArchivesSpace (2016-2017). Finding aid created with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Hidden Collections grant, 2012.

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
(212) 769-5420