Ernst Mayr on Bringing Jim Watson to Harvard
  Ernst Mayr     Biography    
Recorded: 31 Mar 2002

Some of the old faculty members didn’t want to have such an immature person… We had to really work hard to get him.

At that time we had only one biochemist in the department on the faculty and that was George Wald. George Wald was not exactly popular among the rest of the faculty. And so we finally had two or three people that worked with us to get Watson, one of them was the blonde physiologist [Howard] Temin and another one Don Kufe, the behavior man—bats, and so on and so forth. That’s a small group.

We pushed through Watson because we made it very clear to the rest of the department [that] we simply were terribly one-sided, and we got to do something about it and this is the brightest spot in the nearby and we have to get it to Harvard.

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.