Archives and Manuscript Collections
Records of the Laboratory (RG5)
WILLIAM JACOB ROBBINS RECORDS (1918-1978)
54.5 linear feet (104 boxes)
Jacob Robbins (1890-1978), distinguished leader of American science, was
the fourth Director-in-Chief of The New York Botanical Garden, serving
during the World War II and post-war periods (1937-58). Following the directorships
of Elmer Drew Merrill (1930-1935) and Marshal Avery Howe (1935-1936), Robbins
served longer than any director since Nathaniel Lord Britton. In his 20-year
tenure as director Robbins, guided the Garden through a difficult period
of financial distress. In the process he placed microbiological research
on a major track of the Garden's mission, while continuing to support botanical
exploration and floristic study. He held a concurrent appointment as Professor
of Botany at Columbia University and developed a wide range of collaborative
and institutional ties in both American and international scientific communities.
Robbins was born February 22, 1890, in North Platte, Nebraska and grew
up in Muncy and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He received his A.B. (1910) at
Lehigh University and Ph.D. (1915) in plant physiology at the Department
of Agriculture of Cornell University. In that year he married Christine
Chapman, with whom he co-authored papers on David Hosack and John Torrey.
In 1916 he was appointed Professor of Botany at the Alabama Polytechnic
Institute at Auburn, where he began research into Bryophyllum, an
important focus of his research for years to come. After serving briefly
in World War I as a medical bacteriologist at the Yale University Laboratory
School, he served as Professor of Botany and Chairman of the Department
of Botany of the University of Missouri (1919-1937). During his eighteen
years here, he also served as Dean of the Graduate School (1930-1937) and
as Acting President (1933-1934).
The New York Botanical Garden appointed Robbins Director-in-Chief in
1937; he assumed duties in March, 1938. He was the first director who specialized
in plant physiology and microbiology rather than taxonomy. His primary
research interests were the tissue culture of higher plants, including
Hedera helix; the nutritional requirements of filamentous fungi;
and vitamin synthesis, normal and abnormal growth, and the physiology of
aging in plants. During World War II he began an experimental program to
extract antibiotic substances from basidiomycetes, the fleshy fungi. The
program was supported by a grant from the National Foundation for Infantile
Paralysis to screen chemical extractions for antiviral application. Dr.
Igor N. Asheshov assisted him in this effort.
As Director, Robbins reversed the deterioration of the Garden's infrastructure,
instituted sound budgetary practices, and improved employee benefits and
conditions of work. Renovation and construction programs increased through
his effective procurement of private funding. He initiated the establishment
of a permanent research laboratory in 1956, making The New York Botanical
Garden unique among botanical institutions in the scope of its research
and accomplishments. In 1947 The New Yorker published a profile
of Robbins entitled "Square Deal among the Fungi" that characterized him
as "a man in whom the qualities of an efficient administrator, a zealous
promoter, and a physiological mycologist, or student of the behavior of
fungi, are rather unexpectedly joined."
In 1947 Robbins traveled to Japan as one of six scientists of the Scientific
Advisory Committee of the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate and
make recommendations on rebuilding Japan's educational, research, and scientific
institutions in the aftermath of World War II. Afterwards, he was involved
in negotiations to bring the Lloyd Library of Cincinnati to the Garden
while his experiments on the regeneration of Bryophyllum, the vitamin
needs of Euglena gracilis, and the inhibition of bacterial viruses
continued. In 1955 Robbins was a National Academy of Sciences delegate
to the Seventh Pakistan Science Conference. The following year he toured
Europe and the British Isles to collect data on plant growth and to deliver
a paper at the Colloque International in Paris. During these years he oversaw
a team of scientists engaged in research on genetics (Barksdale, Dodge,
and Stout), exploration of the Guyana Highland (Bassett Maguire), and publication
of the New Britton & Brown Illustrated Flora (Henry Gleason).
He assisted Robert Gordon Wasson in his ethnomycological studies of the
Mazatecs of Oaxaca and was involved in the recruitment of Oswald Tippo
to succeed him as director. Tippo declined, and William Steere became the
director, serving from 1958 to 1972.
Though William Robbins retired from The New York Botanical Garden for
reasons of health, he continued his research at Rockefeller University
and maintained associations with many scientific societies. Among his many
appointments and distinctions, he served as: Vice President, 3rd
International Microbiological Conference (1939); President, Torrey Botanical
Club (1943-44); President, Botanical Society of America (1943); Vice President,
American Association for the Advancement of Science (1943); board of directors
member, Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (1944-73); Treasurer,
National Academy of Sciences (1948-60); Vice President, Mycology and Bacteriology,
International Botanical Congress VII (1950); President, American Philosophical
Society (1956-59); board of trustees member, Rockefeller University (1956-65);
President, Fairchild Tropical Garden (1962-69); and Chairman, Conference
on Tropical Botany, Fairchild Tropical Garden (1960). He held honorary
Doctor of Science degrees from Lehigh University (1937) and Fordham University
(1945). William Robbins died oCTOBER 5, 1978.
SCOPE AND CONTENT
The William Jacob Robbins collection consists of correspondence, institutional
records, research papers, laboratory notebooks, manuscripts and typescripts,
grant records, certificates, awards, photographic material, and reprints.
It covers the periods of his associations with the University of Missouri
(1921-1937) and The New York Botanical Garden (1937-1957), as well as his
post-retirement work. In addition, there are correspondence and organizational
records pertaining to his association with the American Philosophical Society
(1956-59), Boyce Thompson Institute (1944-73), Fairchild Tropical Garden
(1940-78), and his participation in the United States Scientific Advisory
Mission to Japan in 1947.
Series 1: Correspondence
Series 2: American Philosophical Society
Series 3: Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research
Series 4: Fairchild Tropical Gardens
Series 5: Japan Scientific Advisory Group, 1947
Series 6: Research Papers
Series 7: Abstracts
Series 8: Laboratory Notebooks
Series 9: Manuscripts and Typescripts
Series 10: Research Grants
Series 11: New York Botanical Garden Administration
Series 12: Certificates and Awards
Series 13: Photography
Series 14: Negatives
Series 15: Lantern Slides
Series 16: Reprints
Series 1 Correspondence, 1921-1976
12.5 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
There are 10 boxes of correspondence files identified by individual,
organization, and subject. One sequence (see Box #4, #5, and #6) entitled
"General Correspondence" includes 30 files from the period 1938 to 1949;
6 files from 1940; and 9 files from 1952 to 1957. These are organized alphabetically
within each chronological period. Notable correspondents are Henry F. Du
Pont, Rene d'Harnoncourt (UNESCO), Blanche Hooker, Frank Kingdon-Ward,
Robert Moses, Kenneth Raper, Jonas Salk, and R. Gordon Wasson. Subjects
include antibiotics, cultures, General Electric "Science Forum" radio broadcasts
(1940), Kingdon-Ward's expeditions to Nyasaland (1947) and India/Burma
(1948-49), research for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis,
and a worldwide search for cortisone-bearing plants in the genus Strophantus.
Series 2 American Philosophical Society, 1938-1971
1.0 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
Dr. Robbins was president of the American Philosophical Society,
1956-59. This series contains 32 files of correspondence and papers relating
to his administration of committees and programs. These include the Papers
of Benjamin Franklin, Committee on Research, a research grant to E. J.
Alexander to complete John Kunkel Small's unfinished Manual of the South
Central Flora, the construction of a library building, and the Michaux
Fund. Robbins was also involved in planning a commemorative event in 1959
for the one hundredth anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's
of Species and extended an invitation to Sir Charles Darwin, the author's
grandson, as a speaker for the occasion.
Series 3 Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research,
1.4 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
As Board of Directors member, Robbins directed the activities of the
Boyce Thompson Institute's Scientific Advisory Committee. There are 18
files of correspondence, minutes, and reports. One file pertains to a search
for a successor to Boyce Thompson's director, Dr. William Crocker, in 1948.
Series 4 Fairchild Tropical Garden, 1940-1978
1.0 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
As President of the Fairchild Tropical Garden, Robbins was involved
in all aspects of the direction and progress of the institution. There
are 30 files of correspondence and institutional records. Twelve general
correspondence files (1940-78) are arranged chronologically. The material
includes correspondence with officers and benefactors of the garden, including
founder Dr. David Fairchild and director John Popenoe.
Series 5 Japan Scientific Advisory Group, 1947-1948
0.8 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
There are 33 files of presentation material and reports used by Robbins
as a member of the Scientific Advisory Mission to Japan in 1947, organized
by the National Academy of Sciences, to assist the rehabilitation of scientific
and educational institutions in post-war Japan. Included are prospectuses
on the history, faculty, and curricula of major universities; status/progress
reports of governmental entities; and records of scientific activities
of private research laboratories. There are also reports from the Supreme
Commander of the Allied Powers to the Imperial Japanese Government and
to the Japan National Research Council, some with Robbins' annotations.
Series 6 Research Papers, 1921-1978
5.0 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
This series consists of 7 boxes of notes and records of experiments
and research findings. Subject matter includes antibiotics and their action,
cultures, plant morphology and biochemistry, floral and fungal growth,
pathogens, chemical derivatives, and a variety of botanical topics. There
are written notes, tables, lists, graphs, chemical formulae and processes,
lab procedures, annotated reprints, photographs, and correspondence. Robbins
received inocula for experimental cultures from his associates and subsequently
named several series of experiments for these individuals. These include
the Baxter, Cardoso, Davidson, Gray, Jackson, Lopes, Nobles, Whetzel, White,
and Wilkins series. Additional information may be found in related correspondence
files and laboratory notebooks under these names.
The research records fall into the following categories: (a) species
of organism; (b) plant physiology and biochemistry; (c) plant forms and
functions; (d) named culture experiment series, (as above); (d) named and/or
numbered experiments; (e) laboratory methods and procedures; and (f) bibliographic
notes. See also Series 7: Abstracts; Series 8: Laboratory Notebooks; Series
9: Manuscripts and Typescripts; and the photographic media for related
information. Also included is Robbins' personal, annotated copy of Asa
Gray's Flowering Plants and Ferns.
Series 7 Abstracts, 1921-1978
1.7 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
Robbins compiled a series of abstracts of the botanical and biological
literature pertinent to his research. Each abstract entry cites name, title,
date, and publication together with Robbins' summaries and annotations.
There are 73 files of abstracts arranged by research topic.
Series 8 Laboratory Notebooks, 1923-1969
14.6 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
There are 187 laboratory notebooks containing detailed records of laboratory
research conducted over the course of Dr. Robbins' career. Some notebooks
were created and maintained by students or associates under his direction.
Records of Annette Hervey and Frederick Kavanaugh appear in notebooks associated
with their published articles. Robbins titled and numbered the notebooks
using Roman numerals. In some cases, dating is absent or experiments from
disparate years appear in a single notebook. These records document the
conditions, progress, status, and findings of laboratory experiments. Data
in the notebooks include experimental conditions, tables, graphs, lists,
charts, and summaries. In some cases, photographs and correspondence are
attached within; e.g., see "Potato Factor Z, Book II" (Box #34) for correspondence
with George W. Beadle, February 20, 1942.
Series 9 Manuscripts and Typescripts, 1936-1974
1.0 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
There are 70 files of manuscripts and typescripts of published articles.
In some cases, research notes and annotated reprints are attached. Four
files consist of notes for speeches and conference presentations and one
for a radio talk. Most of the material relates to research findings, some
with subjects of botanical history. There is a small selection of manuscripts
of other authors including two by Dr. Robbins' wife, Christine Chapman
Series 10 Research Grants, 1959-1964
0.1 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
There are 6 files of applications, correspondence, and reports on grants
from the National Science Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, and Rockefeller
Foundation. Information on grants may also be found in the correspondence,
especially that of the American Philosophical Society and the Rockefeller
Foundation and Institute.
Series 11 New York Botanical Garden Administration,
0.1 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
There are 7 files pertaining to administrative activities, including
New York Botanical Garden Planning Committee and staff publications.
Series 12 Certificates and Awards, 1943-1959
Two files. Arranged chronologically.
There are 4 items: National Victory Garden Institute award (1943); National
Academy of Sciences certificate of delegation for International Botanical
Congress VIII (1954); Certificate of Merit, Botanical Society of America
(1956); and New York Botanical Garden Distinguished Service Award (1959).
Series 13 Photography, 1936-1974
7.0 lin. ft. Arranged by size, then alphabetically by subject.
There are 14 boxes of photographs of cultures and laboratory subjects
that supplement the research record (see Series 6: Research Papers). Major
Bryophyllum, Coleus, Hedera, dermatophytes,
Drosophila, Euglena, Morchella, Penicillium, Phycomyces, Polyporus,
Poria, Stereum, Tomato roots, Trichophyton, and various species
of fungi. Photographs are cross-referenced with corresponding negatives.
There are some microphotographs of microscopic organisms, as well as portraits
of Dr. Robbins and colleagues.
Series 14 Negatives, 1936-1974
4.2 lin. ft. Arranged by size, then alphabetically by subject.
There are 19 boxes of photo negatives that correspond to the photographic
record as described in Series 13: Photography. Negatives are cross-referenced
with positive prints where applicable.
Series 15 Lantern Slides, 1947-1958
4.0 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.
There are 31 boxes of lantern slides largely duplicating the photo record
of Series 13: Photography (see above). There is also a sequence on topophysis
and on Robbins' trip to Japan in 1947.
Series 16 Reprints, 1936-1969
1.3 lin. ft. Arranged by volume number.
This series consists of Robbins' (and his colleagues') reprints collected
in four bound presentation volumes titled Operae Laboratorii Horti Noveboraci
e Conlegio Robbinsii. Robbinsiaceae, presented to him on the occasion
of his 80th birthday, February 28, 1970.
The New York Botanical Garden
PP Kenneth B. Raper Papers
RG3 Administrative Papers of the Chief Executive
Officer (William J. Robbins, 1937-1958)
RG4 John Kunkel Small Records
RG5 Marjorie Anchel Records
RG5 Igor Nicholas Asheshov Records
RG5 Alma Whiffen Barksdale Records
RG5 Bernard Ogilvie Dodge Records
RG5 Annette Hervey Records
Processed September 1999 by David Rose under a grant from
the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.
For more information and a complete description contact:
Susan Fraser, NYBG
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
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