Ernst Mayr on A Summer Day at CSHL: 1940s.
  Ernst Mayr     Biography    
Recorded: 31 Mar 2002

We had to make arrangements at least three or four months earlier where we could stay because housing was a problem in Cold Spring Harbor. And we spent several years in Hooper House, and then we spent several years in Williams House, and that all the place that we stayed while we in Cold Spring Harbor.

Now part of the summer I had to go back to the museum because I didn’t have that long of a vacation and so in the morning I walked to the railroad station and commuted to the American Museum [of Natural History]. When I was not commuting, when I was staying there I would go down to Jones Hall, one of the buildings at Cold Spring Harbor. And there I had a little cubicle where I could work and that’s where I did my first experimental work on Drosophila and later on mostly just writing, catching up with the literature and then I went home for lunch of course and in the afternoon, first I went back went to my office in Jones but then in the later afternoon my family had just gone ahead of me to the Sandspit, if the weather was nice and I followed them and then pretty soon I was joined by many, many other people whose names are quiet well known and we sat around and argued about whether or not nucleic acid is the genetic material or some other questions that were on our minds.

And then afterwards some days, maybe, we would go clam digging right there at the Sandspit and then have a clambake or else we went home or there were quite often afternoon seminars or evening lectures and we would meet socially as families with other families. That was about the life. Of course, I had a wife and two children and they had to lead a more or less independent life up to a point, because I had to—I felt like I had to do for many hours research work everyday.

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.