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Henry Fairfield Osborn papers

Identifier: Mss .O835


  • 1877-1935
  • Majority of material found within 1908-1935

Restrictions on Access

Please contact Special Collections; materials are sometimes restricted.

Biographical sketch

Henry Fairfield Osborn was a paleontologist, museum curator and administrator at the American Museum of Natural History. His 45-year career at the museum established it as a leading institution of research and scholarship in the fields of paleontology and evolution. Osborn's interest in paleontology, atypically for his time, derived as much from biology as from geology; in his undergraduate and graduate studies, he concentrated on biology, anatomy, embryology and neurology. In 1891, Osborn began his tenure at the AMNH by organizing and heading the new department of mammalian paleontology, while simultaneously accepting a similar position in biology at Columbia University. The AMNH department, which was eventually renamed vertebrate paleontology, was definitive in the museum's research and mission: the study and teaching of evolution. Osborn began his administrative work in 1899, becoming president in 1908, a position he held for twenty-five years. His strength was in leadership and education rather than empirical science; under his guidance, the museum expanded greatly in physical space and endowment, scientific staff, research and public education. Like his predecessor Albert S. Bickmore, Osborn recognized the need to combine information with entertainment. He popularized paleontology by ensuring that the museum's exhibits did not merely display the researchers' work, but also explained it in an attractive and accessible manner. Osborn, like so many of his contemporaries, was a prolific writer. His attempt to research and publish a definitive record of all the fossil mammals of North America was wildly overambitious, but by the time of his death he had completed substantial works on Equidae, titanotheres, rhinoceroses and Proboscidea, as well as on sauropod dinosaurs; his total publications number 940 (books, monographs, articles and papers), about half devoted to vertebrate paleontology.


66 Linear Feet (128 boxes)

7 Sheets (1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



Published writings: Organized into 8 series. Arranged alphabetically within series; Arranged chronologically.

Related Archival Materials

AMNH Library Special Collections has photographs in 3 series: Hale lectures, trip around the world, Titanothere and Proboscidea monograph. PPC.O836. Dinosaur hunting in Montana, 9 black and white prints. PPC.O8361. Tyrannosaurus, restoration and model of skeleton. PPC.O8362.

AMNH Library Special Collections has collection of original drawings by Joy Flinsch Buba created for Proboscidea monograph. RF-81-B.

Scope and content

The collection consists of corrrespondence, published papers, unpublished manuscripts, academic papers, research subjects, books, a letter press book, and other miscellaneous material. Correspondence makes up almost half of the collection, and is divided into three series: individuals, personal and organizations. Most of the remaining material pertains to Osborn's extensive work on evolution and paleontology, including such major works as The age of mammals in Europe, Asia and North America (1910); and Men of the Old Stone Age (1925). The complete list of Osborn's correspondence fills 38 pages; correspondents include: Hans Christian Adamson; Carl and Mary Jobe Akeley; J.A. Allen, Roald Amundsen (2 letters only); Roy Chapman Andrews; H.E. Anthony (Charles) William Beebe; Charles Berkey; Franz Boas; Barnum Brown; W.D. Burden; James P. Chapin; Frank M. Chapman; T.D.A. Cockerell; Childs Frick; Milo Hellman; William Temple Hornaday; Charles R. Knight; Frederic A. Lucas; Frank E. Lutz; W.D. Matthew; Charles C. Mook; John T. Nichols; Gladwyn K. Noble; John T. Scopes; and George G. Simpson.


Oversize illustrations possibly used for Proboscidea monograph housed separately in RF-FF-33.

Henry Fairfield Osborn papers, 1877-1935 (bulk 1908-1935)
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The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation provided support to make this finding aid available in ArchivesSpace (2016-2017). Minimal level collection record created with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Hidden Collections grant, 2010.

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