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James Arthur Oliver papers

Identifier: DR 125-125A

Scope and Contents

The collection consists primarily of administrative papers from the years 1959-1969 when Oliver was director of the AMNH. The files were arranged arranged alphabetically by subject, most likely by Oliver's secretary, and have been kept in their original order. A typewritten Guide to the file cabinet was found in box 1. Some miscellaneous files from the last box were interfiled. Most of the material is typewritten or printed matter, but there is a handwritten signed letter from explorer Roy Chapman Andrews. Other material relates to the museum's centennial in 1969, the opening of new exhibit halls, the museum's educational and publishing activities, the establishment of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Fund, and the supervision of the research activities of the various departments, including the work of the five research stations operated by the museum. There are also four large boxes of unprocessed papers covering the years 1960 to 1966. Additional resources may be located in the AMNH Dept. of Herpetology.

Scope and Contents

The administrative correspondence and memoranda, which comprise this collection, reflect the wide range of responsibilities overseen by James Arthur Oliver. During his tenure eleven exhibition halls were opened and renovated, however, the information contained in the files is perfuncotry and does not include rich material. The files consist of the Museum's publishing activities that included magazines and books written by members of the staff for adults and children. There are letters and grant proposals seeking support for the many laboratory research projects and field expeditions, both national and international. In addition there are files relating to the research conducted at five field stations operated by the Museum, these include: Great Gull Island off eastern Long Island, for the sutdy of Birds, Kalbleisch Field Station in Huntington, Long Island which is a wildlife sanctuary, the Southwest Research Station that has served the research needs of biologists, geologists and anthropologists, the Archbold Biological Station at Lake Placid, Florida, where marine life was studied, and the Lerner Marine Laboratory on Bimini Island in the Bahamas which also conducted research on marine life. There is a substantial portion of material relating to Theodore Roosevelt. In commemoration of his centannial a fund was established to publish a set of volumes on North American natural history. In addition a series of murals, depicting notable incidents in his career, were installed in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial hall. There are grant requests and letters detailing the Theodore Roosevelt Fund, which provided stipends for the study of ecological habitats. Two folders contain programs and pamphlets from the unveilling ceremony of the equestrian statue in 1940. For the Museum's centennial, in 1969, there are correspondence, memoranda, schedules and programs describing the events and ceremonies including press and private openings, a televised tour, a performance by the New York Philharmonic and addresses by Mayor John Lindsay and Governor Nelson Rockefeller. In addition to the celebrations there are letters in connection with the opening of the cornerstone and removal of its contents. A list of thirty three items were found including a small metal box containing coins and bills which were placed there by President Ulysses S. Grant.


  • 1940-1972


Biographical / Historical

James A. Oliver, a herpetologist, was director of the American Museum of Natural History from 1959 to 1969. Oliver earned his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Michigan in 1942, collecting reptiles on two expeditions to Mexico in the process. He was appointed assistant curator in the AMNH Dept. of Herpetology, but left to serve in the Navy during World War II. During the war, he continued his herpetological collecting activities whenever possible, and in 1946 he returned to the AMNH. In 1951 Oliver accepted the position of curator of reptiles at the New York Zoological Park (the Bronx Zoo), becoming director seven years later. Oliver was named director of the AMNH in 1959, following Albert E. Parr. During his tenure, Oliver served on a New York State committee whose report ultimately led to legislation in 1963 providing for state aid to museums. In 1970 Oliver returned to the New York Zoological Society, as director of the New York Aquarium, where he remained until his retirement in 1976.


10.5 Linear Feet (22 boxes) : administrative papers

16 Linear Feet (4 boxes) : unprocessed papers

Language of Materials



Organized into five series: Series I: General correspondence, 1959-1972 (8 boxes). Series II. Funds, foundations, awards and grants, 1940-1969 (4 boxes). Series III. Departments, 1959-1969 (4 boxes). Series IV. Publications and publishing activities, 1959-1968 (3 boxes). Series V. Research stations, 1959-1969 (3 boxes); Arranged alphabetically by subject.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transfer; AMNH director's office.

Related Materials

James A. Oliver professional papers; Located at; Bronx Zoo library, 2300 Southern Boulevard Bronx, New York 10460.


Previous number: MSS .O451-.O451A

James Arthur Oliver papers, 1940-1972
Harriet Burdock
December 15, 2003
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).

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