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Edward E. Ayer: Legacy

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Edward Ayer and the Field Museum

Edward Everett Ayer (1841-1927) served as the first President of the Board of Trustees of the Field Museum, and throughout the remainder of  his life, gave generously of his time and funds to fulfill the Museum's educational ideals. He took the initiative on many occasions when, in his travels at home or abroad he saw some rare opportunity to acquire unusual and rare material. His interests included such fields as Egyptian antiquities, Greek and Roman--and especially Etruscan--archaeology, fossil vertebrates from California, rare gems, rare birds, and unusual anthropological objects generally.

In collecting books, Mr. Ayer never went far beyond his three principle subjects: Americana, ornithology, and ichthyology. Mr. Ayer's interest in books on birds is evidenced Catalogue of the Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library at the Field Museum of Natural History. This important bibliographic source in ornithology describes each work in the Field Museum Library's collection, which is one of the most outstanding collections of its kind.

Field Museum Publications & Further Reading

Annual Reports

Early annual reports are richly detailed with lists of accessions, descriptions of expeditions, and names of important figures, including Edward Ayer, in the history of The Field Museum. Access every annual report by year and type from this page of The Field Museum website and from the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL):

Books and newsletter articles

  • Ayer, Edward. E. “How I Bought My First Book,” Newberry Library Bulletin, (December 1950): 143-45.
  • Ayer, Emma Burbank. 1911. A Motor Flight through Algeria and Tunisia. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co.
  • Bay, J. Christian. 1941. The Fortune of Books: Essays, Memories, and Prophecies of a Librarian. Chicago: Walter M. Hill.
  • Brinkman, Paul D. "Frederick Ward Putnam, Chicago's Cultural Philanthropists, and the Founding of the Field Museum." Museum History Journal 2.1 (2009): 73-99.
  • Collier, Donald. "Chicago Comes of Age: The World's Columbian Exposition and the Birth of Field Museum." Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin 40, no. 5 (May 1969): 2-7.
  • Cottle, Judith. "Edward E. Ayer and W.M. Flinders Petrie, 'Founding Fathers' of the Egyptian Collection." Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin 52, no. 10 (Nov 1981): 33-35.
  • Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library, and John T Zimmer. 1926. Catalogue of the Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library. Publication / Field Museum of Natural History ; Zoological Series, 239-240. V. 16. Chicago, U.S.A: Field Museum of Natural History.
  • Graffagnino, J. Kevin. 2019. Americana is a Creed: Notable Twentieth-Century Collectors, Dealers, and Curators. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.
  • Lockwood, Frank C. 1929. The Life of Edward E. Ayer. Chicago: A.C. McClurg &, Co.
  • "The Museum's First Million" Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin 41, no. 8 (Aug 1970): 13-15.
  • Webber, E. Leland. "Books, Business, and Buckskin" Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin 55, no. 7 (July/Aug 1984): 5-10, 19-25.
  • Wilhelm, Donald, “A Lumberman Bibliophile,” The Outlook 110, 17 (August 25, 1915): 997-1001.
  • Yurco, Frank. "The Egyptian Collection and the Legacy of Edward E. Ayer" Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin 59, no. 10 (Nov 1988): 20-21.


Purchase expedition to Egypt (1895): Annual Report (1894-5) Vol. 1, No. 1 (p. 18); Vol. 1, No. 2 (p. 96)

Online Collections 

Edward E. Ayer (1841-1927)

Edward Ayer, President of the Board of Trustees, 1893-1906. Portrait. (c) Field Museum of Natural History. Catalogue no.CSGN50750 and I.D. no. 1702642.

Elliot's Bird of Paradise: Epimachus Ellioti. Daniel G. Elliot. Plate 20. Digital reproduction, Oppenheimer Field Museum editions. Original part of Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library at the Field Museum.