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Herman F. Becker (1907-1985)

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Personal Papers
8.9 linear inches (2 boxes)


Herman F. Becker (1907-1985) was a renowned paleobotanist whose specialty was the Tertiary paleobotany of southwest Montana. He was employed by The New York Botanical Garden from 1958 to 1974 and served as Curator of Paleobotany from 1965.

Born in Dusseldorf, Germany, Dr. Becker studied horticulture at the Berlin Botanical Gardens and emigrated to the United States in 1930. He was initially employed as a horticultural assistant and eventually became Superintendent of the Conservatory for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. He attended Brooklyn College from 1939 to 1947, when he received his B.A. He went on to study botany at Columbia University and received his M.A. in 1952. Dr. Becker then went to the University of Michigan to study paleobotany with Chester Arnold and received his Ph.D. in 1956.

From 1947 to 1968, Dr. Becker made a total of ten summer expeditions to the Ruby River basin of southwestern Montana. These shale deposits provided him with the research material he needed to complete his dissertation and he continued to write extensively about the deposits of this area. He also was known for his work in clarifying the structure of the controversial Sanmiguelia from the Triassic deposits of Colorado.

Dr. Becker received many honors during his lifetime. He was a member of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, the Cactus and Succulent Society of America, and the New York Academy of Sciences. He served as a fellow of the Geological Society of America and as president and vice-president of the Torrey Botanical Club. In 1977 he received a Distinguished Service Award from the Botanical Society of America. In 1981 he received a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Brooklyn College Alumni Association, and in 1985 a symposium was held in his honor entitled "Evolution of the Modern Vegetation of the Northern Rocky Mountains." The symposium was jointly held by the Botanical Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


This collection consists of Dr. Becker's research notes, teaching materials, clippings file, and travel notebooks. Dr. Becker was also interested in orchids and the collection includes two of his orchid photo scrapbooks.


Series 1: Personal Papers, 1931-1979
Series 2: Travel Notes, 1953-1968
Series 3: Research Notes and Clippings File
Series 4: Teaching Materials, 1961-1979
Series 5: Orchid Scrapbooks

Series 1     Personal Papers, 1931-1979
                  1.5 lin. in. Arranged chronologically.

Materials in this series include a souvenir of the Boy Scouts, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens material, lecture invitations, a geology paper written during Dr. Becker's student days, thank-you notes written by a class from P.S. 92, advice to fossil hunters, book contract correspondence, and notes on consulting work.

Series 2     Travel Notes, 1953-1968
                  5.7  lin. in.

One small box contains 13 wire-bound, pocket-sized notepads with various jottings concerning trips and expenses. Many pads have only written on a few notes and the bulk of them are blank. A larger box contains 9 notebooks and numerous jottings and receipts. Two of the notebooks are labelled "Europe."

Series 3     Research Notes and Clippings File
                   4 lin. in.

These files are Dr. Becker's personal research notes and include several folders of clippings from various newspapers and magazine sources. There are files on the fossil beds of the Ruby River region, a New York Botanical Garden symposium, orchids, Sanmiguelia, and Dr. Hollick. The Hollick file was compiled by Dr. Becker's longtime assistant, Grace Meleney, and appears to be the notes for an unpublished work. There is also a manuscript in French and Italian entitled "Notes on the Echinocactus williamsii (Peyote)."

Series 4     Teaching Materials, 1961-1979
                   11 lin. in.

This series consists of the lecture notes of Dr. Becker, his class handouts, several outstanding student papers, and correspondence concerning his teaching contracts.

Series 5     Orchid Scrapbooks
                   2 lin. in.

These 2 albums of black-and-white photos are labeled with species. Orchids were an interest of Dr. Becker.


The New York Botanical Garden

RG4 The Herman F. Becker Records

Yale University

In 1983, the entire New York Botanical Garden Paleobotanical Collections were placed on long-term loan with Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History, where they remain a discrete collection.

Processed March 1999 by Stephen Sinon under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) PA-23141-98 and a grant from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.

For more information and a complete description contact:
Susan Fraser, NYBG Archivist
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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