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Henry Hurd Rusby (1855-1940)

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Records of the Herbarium (RG4)
1.5 linear feet


Henry Hurd Rusby (1855-1940) was influential in promoting the study of economic botany at The New York Botanical Garden throughout the first fifty years of its existence. As a youth growing up in Franklin (now Nutley), New Jersey, Rusby demonstrated a passionate interest in plants. At the age of 21 his personal herbarium won him first prize at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. At that time he became acquainted with Dr. George Thurber, who was the President of the Torrey Botanical Club. Rusby joined the Torrey Botanical Club in 1879 and around that time began studying medicine at the Medical College of New York University. In 1880, while still a medical student, he spent 18 months collecting plants in Texas and New Mexico as an agent for the Smithsonian Institution. In 1883 he returned to the Southwest to study and collect medicinal flora of Arizona for Parke, Davis & Co.

Rusby graduated from medical school in 1884 and in 1885 he embarked on a two-year excursion for Parke, Davis & Co., traversing the South American continent and exploring remote regions of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Brazil.

Although trained as a physician, Rusby chose to forego medicine in favor of his interest in plants. In 1889 he was made Professor of Botany and Materia Medica at the College of Pharmacy at Columbia University. He served 26 years as Dean of the Faculty until his retirement in 1930, and as Dean Emeritus until his death in 1940.

Rusby's association with The New York Botanical Garden began even before the Garden was formally established. As a member of the Torrey Botanical Club, he met Nathaniel Lord Britton. It had long been a goal of the club to establish a botanic garden. In 1888 a botanic garden committee of eight distinguished club members, including Britton and Rusby, was formed. Rusby is listed among the numerous incorporators and was instrumental in arranging to have the Columbia College herbarium and botanical library deposited at the Garden. In 1898 Rusby was appointed Honorary Curator of the Economic Botany Museum and served on the Board of Managers until 1933.

Rusby's neotropical explorations, particularly in the Amazon region set the precedent for the systematic and economic botany that has characterized subsequent research at The New York Botanical Garden. The productivity of his trips was due to his endurance and resourcefulness as an explorer. In 1921, when Rusby was 65 years old, he embarked on his last field trip to South America as the Director of the Mulford Biological Exploration of the Amazon Basin.

Henry Rusby died on November 18, 1940, at the age of 85.


The collection documents Rusby's botanical explorations and studies of South American floraand includes lists, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, lantern slides, and field notebooks. The collection is arranged in four series.


Series 1: Research and Field Notes
Series 2: Correspondence
Series 3: Diary
Series 4: Photographic Material

Series 1:     Research and Field Notes, 1885-1917
                    2.75 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically.

Miscellaneous research notes and comments, and field notebooks for his South and Central American trips are included in this series.

Series 2:      Correspondence
                     0.5 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically.

This series includes incidental, miscellaneous correspondence pertaining to his participation as a member of the New York Botanical Garden Board of Managers and his research on plants.

Series 3:       Diary, 1921-1922
                      1 lin. in.

This is a typescript of the "Official Diary of the Mulford Biological Exploration of the Amazon Basin, 1921-1922, by H.H. Rusby."

Series 4:       Photographic material, 1917
                      13 1/2 lin. in. (5 photo boxes)

This series consists of lantern slides from Rusby's 1917 Colombia trip (with Pennell).


The New York Botanical Garden

RG2     Records of the Board of Managers

RG3     Records of the Chief Exec. Officers

CFN    Numbers 30, 86, 101, 106

Small Collections file - Lucille Mann's manuscript. The Drug Hunters: {Mulford Biological Expedition}.

Merck & Co. - (Whitehouse Station, N.J.)

Mulford Biological Exploration material.

Processed March 1999 by  Susan Fraser 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, New York 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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