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Edmund Heller diary

Identifier: Mss .H45

Scope and Contents

The diary is dated from October 9, 1917 to January 12, 1918, with undated addenda and address lists. It contains Heller’s personal reflections and daily activities on his solo return trip from the First Asiatic Zoological Expedition. He discusses the sites and architecture, the flora and weather, as well as the culture and his impressions of the people of each country. He writes of goods for sale, with a particular interest in lantern slides and fur-skinned merchandise. Many of his notations also relate to social invitations and events and individuals he met in his travels, as well as academics and scientists he visited when he returned to the United States. Most of these individuals are only mentioned very briefly and cursorily, and include Roy Chapman Andrews, Harvey Hall, Wilfred Osgood, Carl and Mary Akeley, and G.E. Morrison. He refers to his association with Theodore Roosevelt as well. Locations visited include Shanghai, Peking, Seoul, Yokohama, Tokyo, and Honolulu. In the United States he traveled to Berkeley, Stanford, and San Francisco, California, where he meets his future wife Hilda Hempl, as well as Chicago and finally New York, briefly visiting the various institutions he has been associated with, such as the Field Museum, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley and the American Museum of Natural History.


  • October 9, 1917-January 12, 1918


Access Conditions and Restrictions

Requests to use the collection should be made in advance to the Special Collections Librarian, who may be contacted at 212-769-5420 or at [email protected] Due to the difficulty in reading the original diary and the condition of the paper, it is recommended that whenever possible the transcription is utilized in place of the original.

Biographical Note

Edmund Heller (May 21, 1875-July 18, 1939) was an American naturalist, explorer, and zoologist. He was born in Freeport, Ill. but his family moved to California when he was thirteen. He began collecting birds as a child with his friend Harvey Hall. He attended Stanford University, graduating in 1901 with a degree in zoology. While a student, he began his field experience in the Galapagos Islands and working for the United States Biological Survey in Alaska. After graduation he was employed by the Field Museum in Chicago as a field collector, and at this time he joined expeditions in Mexico, Guatemala, and California. He was a member of Carl Akeley’s 1907 Field Museum African expedition. From 1907 to 1909 he acted as curator of mammals for the University of California’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology which included an expedition in Alaska.

Heller was sought out to participate in many expeditions in the following years. In 1909 he became associated with the Smithsonian Institution as he joined Theodore Roosevelt’s African Expedition. Roosevelt would credit Heller greatly, and include him as co-author of their Life Histories of African Game Animals. Heller was still associated with the Smithsonian when Paul J. Rainey selected him as naturalist for his 1911 African expedition, which would notably produce the first documentary film to come out of that continent. Rainey was a wealthy big-game hunter and explorer and a patron of many institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian. In 1914 he accompanied Lincoln Ellsworth in Canada as part of the United States Biological Survey and in 1915 he acted as naturalist on a Peruvian expedition jointly sponsored by the National Geographic Society and Yale University. In 1916 he was secured by the American Museum of Natural History to act as naturalist and small mammal collector on Roy Chapman Andrews’ Asiatic Zoological Expedition in China’s Yunnan Province. That Expedition is sometimes referred to as part of the Central Asiatic Expeditions. Heller then accompanied Paul J. Rainey on the 1918 Rainey Asiatic Expedition to Siberia (This was also known as the Third Asiatic Zoological Expedition and is not to be confused with the Third Asiatic Expedition led by Andrews in 1921-1930). The following year Heller acted as leader of the Smithsonian’s Cape-to-Cairo Expedition, and later did additional studies in Yellowstone National Park.

He was hired by Wilfred H, Osgood as assistant curator of mammals at the Field Museum in 1921. He held the position for six years and during this time he did expeditionary work in Peru and Africa. After his resignation, he was the director of the Milwaukee Zoo from 1928 to 1935 and the Fleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco until his death in 1939. From 1918 to 1928 Heller was married to Hilda Hempl, a bacteriologist and fellow Stanford alumna who would accompany him on three of his expeditions. Heller was a well-respected collector for his quality and quantity of expeditions as well as specimens that have been contributed to institutions across the United States. His name was added to many mammal names as “helleri” in recognition of his contributions. He wrote extensively and was a member of such association as the American Association of Zoological Parks, the American Society of Mammalogists, and the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.


0.25 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials


Custodial History

According to a facsimile sheet dated June 8, 1994 in the American Museum of Natural History Vertical file for Edmund Heller, the diary was acquired by businessman, collector, and independent historian Frederic A. Sharf. Sharf was collecting material relating to Japan 1870-1920, and was seeking further clarification in order to identify the writer. He hoped to thus provide an accurate transcription and notes a desire to donate the diary to the Museum.

Source of Acquisition

Gift to the American Museum of Natural History of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, 1994.


The diary cover is brittle and the paper is very thin. It is housed archivally, and the full transcript is included in the same box. Most of the writing is done in faint pencil, making the transcription a preferable means of viewing.

Related Materials

Edmund Heller Papers, circa 1898-1918, 1.8 linear meters, SIA RU007179, record unit 7179 (, located at the Smithsonian Institution Archives includes Heller’s diaries that would directly precede and follow this one as well as other material devoted to his experience on the American Museum of Natural History’s First Asiatic Zoological Expedition.

Physical Description

1 v. (ca. 132 p.) ; 16 cm. This is a leather-bound loose-leaf diary handwritten in ink and pencil. A bound printed transcript of the diary by Frederic A. Sharf is included in the box with the diary.

Edmund Heller diary, October 9, 1917-January 12, 1918
Kendra Meyer
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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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, 2000.

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