Ernst Mayr on Russia, 1972
  Ernst Mayr     Biography    
Recorded: 31 Mar 2002

My 1942 book [Systematics and the origin of Species from the Viewpoint of a Zoologist, Columbia University Press, 1942] appeared for the first time in Russia in 1947, and I didn’t know anything about it. Years later, Dobzhansky found it in a bibliography of a Russian paper, and then we wrote to Russia and we found out all about it, but since that time several other of my books were translated.

They [the books] were collected in Moscow by a person by the name of Heppner [Frank H. Heppner], a famous zoologist there.

I came in 1972 to Moscow. He greeted me joyfully and said, “Well, we got 4,000 rubbles or something liked that here, in royalties.” And so I said to my wife, “Well, we’re going to buy you a fur coat of the most famous fur there is.” What is it called?

Sable, yes, sable, yes! And we went to the stores. Oh no! They can be sold only against Volutar (??). Finally we found out we couldn’t buy anything. We couldn’t buy caviar—we couldn’t buy anything with the money we had there and we couldn’t export it.

We finally bought a few records and a few art books, and the rest I gave to Heppner to give to his graduate students. That was my story of the Russian royalties!

Ernst Mayr has been universally acknowledged as the leading evolutionary biologist of the twentieth century. He earned his Ph.D. in ornithology at the age of 21 from the University of Berlin in 1926. During his tenure at the Berlin Museum, from 1926 to 1930, Mayr led ornithological expeditions to Dutch New Guinea and German Mandated New Guinea. In 1931, he was hired by the American Museum of Natural History, Department of Ornithology. During his 20-year AMNH tenure, Dr. Mayr described 26 new bird species and 410 subspecies, more than any other living avian systematist.

In 1953, Mayr became Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, and served as Director of the Museum (1961-1970). He has published hundreds of papers and eight books, including Systematics and the Origin of Species (1942), which became a landmark of evolutionary biology.

Mayr has been honored with more than 25 major scientific awards and honors and many honorary degrees, including the National Medal of Science (1970), the Balzan Prize in Biology (1983) and the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1999) with John Maynard Smith and George C. Williams "for their fundamental contributions to the conceptual development of evolutionary biology."

In 1995, Harvard’s Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology was rededicated as the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Mayr has been a longtime friend and mentor to Jim Watson.