Skip to main content

Robert Cushman Murphy collection

Identifier: Mss .M87

Scope and Contents

This collection is comprised of eight folders containing clippings from magazines and newspapers, typed announcements and articles, some correspondence, and various ephemera that highlight moments in Robert Cushman Murphy’s life and his association with AMNH. The collection was transferred from the AMNH Office of Public Affairs. The contents of all folders are chronologically ordered. Almost all the material is photocopied printed matter or typewritten, with some carbon copies. Folder 2 contains a handwritten letter from Grace Murphy to Ruth Norton about dissatisfaction on a profile about R.C. Murphy. The small selection of Murphy's articles reflects his ongoing interest in the Antarctic and South Atlantic regions, and the competing demands of industry and conservation. A typical example is the 1954 report, Guano and the Anchoveta Fishery, based on Murphy's December 1953-January 1954 reconnaissance of the guano islands off the coast of Peru and northern Chile, and incorporating material from his earlier work in the area in 1919 (all in folder 7). An interesting personal item (in folder 4) is the program from the dinner at which Murphy was given the annual Long Island Press distinguished service award for 1970, which contains Murphy's handwritten corrections and sarcastic comments in the biographical section. [partially from M87 record entry]


  • 1913-1973
  • Majority of material found within 1930-1973



Please contact Special Collections; materials are sometimes restricted.

Biographical Note

Robert Cushman Murphy, an ornithologist, conservationist, author and museum curator, spent 35 years with the American Museum of Natural History, retiring as chairman of the Dept. of Ornithology and Lamont Curator of Birds in 1955. Murphy's interests in oceanic birds and conservation were established during his first expedition for the AMNH, the 1912-1913 South Georgia Island Expedition. After working for several years at the Brooklyn Museum, Murphy was appointed associate curator of birds at the AMNH in 1921. He eventually went on 13 expeditions, to Peru, the Mediterranean Sea, New Zealand and other Pacific Islands, Bermuda, Venezuela, and islands in the Caribbean, often accompanied by his wife, Grace, a naturalist, conservationist and author. During the 1920-1941 Whitney South Sea Expedition, Murphy's expertise kept him out of the field so that specimens could be processed, studied and classified as soon as they arrived. In 1932, Murphy faced the daunting task of cataloging the 280,000 birds acquired by the AMNH when it purchased Lord Rothschild's Tring collection. With the help of Grace Murphy and Ernst Mayr, the work was completed in 4 months. Murphy published five books, including Birds of Peru (1925) and Oceanic birds of South America (2 v., 1936, 1948). In addition, he was co-author or contributor to five others, and wrote between 500 and 600 articles, both scientific and popular. Murphy died in 1973. [from M87 record entry]


0.25 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials


Source of Acquisition

Transfer; AMNH Office of Public Affairs, 1993.

Related Materials

Call Number: AMNH Special Collections, Vertical Files – drawers 165, 166, 178. Title: Robert Cushman Murphy’s Assorted Expedition Photographs, 1912-1956. Description: An extensive collection of Murphy's photographs from 1912-1956. Includes: Ecuador and Peru; Guano Island; New Zealand; East Pacific Ocean; Columbian Coast; ca. 3,824 prints.

Call Number: PPC.M87. Title: AMNH Special Collections European and Mediterranean expeditions, 1926. Description: Two boxes.

Call Number: PPC.M871. Title: AMNH Special Collections Miscellaneous travelogue/fishing, 1930-1947. Extent: Three boxes.

Call Number: PPC.M872. Title: AMNH Special Collections Travelogue. Description: Contact sheets of 35mm negatives w/inventory.

Call Number: PPC.M873. Title: AMNH Special Collections South Georgia Island Expedition. Description: 27 B/W prints. 15 rolls of contact prints.

Call Number: AMNH Library Special Collections, Film Collection – Assorted. Title: AMNH Library Special Collections, Film Collection – 16 films by R.C. Murphy. Description: AMNH Library Special Collections, Film Collection, has 16 films made or narrated by Murphy, or in which he appears: Bird islands of Peru (1920?), Film Collection #16; Birds of Peru and northern Chile (1953-1954), FC #17; Bottom of the world (1912-1913), FC #18; Antarctic animals (1953), FC #32; Bird islands of the Pacific (1953), FC #36; Kontiki (1953), FC #37; Portrait of the Arctic (1954), FC #61; Theory of flight (1954), FC #68; The first anniversary show [CBS/AMNH Adventure series] (1954), FC #70; Wild birds and man (1954), FC #73; Birdwatching (1954), FC #80; Bird brains (1954), FC #87; Adventure (1955), FC #109; Seabirds' struggle for survival (1956), FC #143; Men of science (1938), FC #212; and The penetration of the Bellingshausen Sea (1960), FC #252.

Call Number: RBC K-6 Title: Murphy's signed and annotated typescript of a list of the Tring Ornithological Collection (1932) Description: AMNH Library has Murphy's signed and annotated typescript of A list of the Tring ornithological collection (1932) (7 v., carbon copy) in RBC K-6; and a microfilm set (1 reel), Archives Microfilm #37. [from M87 record entry]

Call Number: Orn 60. Title: Whitney South Sea Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History (1920-1941) – Department of Ornithology. Description: The collection is comprised of thirty-three bound journals that contain letters and entries written by the field researchers that participated in the Whitney South Sea Expedition, included are supplementary materials associated with the expedition such as log books and sketches.

Separated Materials

AMNH Research Library Vertical Files


The collection is generally stable and in fine condition. Folder 6 contains brittle newspaper clippings.

Physical Description

Collection is mainly comprised of typewritten original or photocopies of letters or announcements, newspaper and magazine articles, includes original pamphlets or booklets commemorating events in Murphy’s life.

Robert Cushman Murphy collection, 1913-1973 (bulk 1930-1973)
Multilevel Complete
Cara Shatzman
September 5, 2014
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
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.
Edition statement
Information for this finding aid expanded on the original catalog record written by Ann Herendeen, 2004.

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