I was first exposed to the writings of Theodore Roosevelt last year when his book African Game Trails was required reading for a history class on American naturalists. While I didn’t have high expectations of it to begin with, I was definitely surprised to find myself particularly engrossed by the description of his expedition to east Africa. Perhaps Roosevelt’s work simply satisfied a submerged desire for action amidst the tide of academic publications I’m subject to at school, but nevertheless, I felt as if I had discovered someone who genuinely, and unexpectedly, piqued my interest in natural history writing. Therefore, when Iris informed me that my next assignment was to create a finding aid for the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and Exhibition collection, I was obviously thrilled.

The collection’s ten boxes ended up comprising two separate themes and subjects. The first of which revolved around the decades long creation of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, which now serves as the museum’s main entrance. Although progress on construction was slow, it was ultimately successful and certainly worth the wait. Also prominent in this series was information detailing the construction of the monumental equestrian statue of Roosevelt which has greeted museum visitors since its unveiling in 1940. The second half of the collection, however, was the true gem and I would be shocked if has not already been utilized by various historians. This portion of the collection is made up of various correspondence between Roosevelt and well know AMNH President Henry Fairfield Osborn and AMNH ornithologist Frank M. Chapman amongst others. Both men were extremely well respected in their time for their contributions to the sciences, and based on their letters, they each maintained great friendships with the former president. The correspondence ranges mainly from the turn of the 20th century up until Roosevelt’s death in 1919, and the subjects range from discussions about Roosevelt’s special interest in animal coloration patterns, to the details of various expeditions Roosevelt undertook for the museum, especially his notoriously dangerous exploration of the Amazon from 1913 through 1914. After slowly working my way through the carbon copies of these letters in the first few boxes, I was shocked to find the stained, but well preserved, originals (many of which were signed, if not handwritten) in the last box I opened. Clearly this collection is nothing short of a treasure for anyone interested in Roosevelt, it not only illustrates his amazing intelligence (his knowledge of the natural sciences was impressive), but the AMNH’s central role in scientific research (which Roosevelt publicized through the numerous articles he wrote for magazines detailing their collective work). I’m honored to have been given an opportunity to work with such rare and important documents, and I hope others find the collection as fascinating as I have.

One Response to Theodore Roosevelt and the AMNH

  1. Joseph R Ornig says:

    Dear Friends:

    The photograph you used showing Theodore Roosevelt at his desk, writing, can you tell me the source of this photo? I need just such an image to illustrate and essay I have written on Roosevelt’s literary career. The essay will be published by the Theodore Roosevelt Association JOURNAL, Fall 2015 issue, which comes out in January 2016.

    Harvard University’s TR collection curator could not locate this photo in their collection. I would appreviate your prompt advice as to where I can find the image and contact the holder of it.


    Joseph R Ornig
    85 Warrington Drive
    Lake Bluff, Illinois, 60044
    office 847-623-8800

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