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Henry Francis Nachtrieb papers

Identifier: ua0974

Scope and Content

Nachtrieb’s professional correspondence constitutes the administrative records that document the early history of the Bell Museum of Natural History. As director of the museum, then known as the Zoological Museum, in concurrence with his role as chair of the department of Animal Biology and position as State Zoologist for the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey (MGNHS), the incoming and outgoing correspondence in this series documents the activities of the museum prior to and in conjunction with the appointment of Thomas Sadler Roberts as Associate Curator in 1915. These materials fill in the museum timeline prior to the scope of the related collection, the Bell Museum of Natural History records.

Installation of the first animal habitat groups, construction of the Animal Biology building, execution of the Megalops houseboat on river expeditions, and study of the native fishes of Minnesota are all subjects addressed in the professional correspondence.

Eight field notebooks that document various trips to collect and study zoological specimens from 1892-1901 are found within box 5.

A folder of correspondence regarding Nachtrieb family members (box 3), a photo album of Nachtrieb’s daughter Margaret as a baby, correspondence between Nachtrieb’s wife Ann and daughter Margaret with Nachtrieb cousins and other relatives regarding family history, a folder of family photographs, and a collection of obituary notices and the program and guestbook from Nachtrieb’s memorial service (box 7), constitute the series of personal and family papers.


  • 1886-1929

Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Requests for permission to quote from the Henry Francis Nachtrieb papers should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives head.

Biographical Sketch of Henry Francis Nachtrieb

Henry Francis Nachtrieb was born near Galion, Ohio on May 11, 1857. He earned a B.S. from the University of Minnesota in 1882 and later attended Johns Hopkins University for graduate studies from 1883-1885. In 1885, he returned to the University of Minnesota where he served as instructor (1885-1886) and assistant professor of biology (1886-1887), and professor and chairman of the Department of Animal Biology (1887-1925). Upon his retirement in 1925, Nachtrieb was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus of Animal Biology.

On June 4, 1888, the Board of Regents established the role of State Zoologist to take charge of the formal zoological investigations of the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey (MGNHS), which was established by the state legislature in 1872. Nachtrieb became the State Zoologist upon his promotion from an associate professor to Professor of Animal Biology in November of 1888 (The Board originally approved that the Professor of Animal Biology would also serve as the State Zoologist and direct the zoological portion of the survey). Nachtrieb’s first major initiative for the survey was to produce fish, mussel, and mollusk investigations of Minnesota’s rivers. In 1899, Nachtrieb collaborated with Ulysses S. Cox, professor of biology at the Mankato State Normal School, to construct a houseboat with a fully equipped laboratory to travel the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers and tributaries to study aquatic life. The traveling laboratory, which was named “Megalops,” was launched in 1899 into the Minnesota River at Mankato. Nachtrieb, Cox, and a rotating crew of assistants from the University seined the rivers and collected specimens. Their work resulted in several published reports of the aquatic fauna of Minnesota

In the early 1900s, Nachtrieb assumed responsibility of directing the University’s Zoological Museum, which was established as part of the original MGNHS. Nachtrieb collaborated with prominent Minneapolis businessman James Ford Bell, then Vice President of the milling firm Washburn-Crosby Co., to promote Minnesota’s natural history. Bell, an avid outdoorsman, took interest in Nachtrieb’s department and, in 1911, financed the collection, preparation, and installation of a diorama of Newfoundland Caribou. Nachtrieb forged a long-standing relationship between Bell and the University, as Bell later financed additional dioramas that are still part of the Zoological Museum, today known as the Bell Museum of Natural History.

In 1915, Nachtrieb pursued the development of ornithological research at the University and influenced Thomas Sadler Roberts, a prominent Minneapolis physician and ornithological expert, to accept an initially unpaid position within the department of animal biology as Associate Curator of the Zoological Museum. The museum became an independent department with a separate budget in July 1919, and Roberts was promoted to Director, removing the responsibility of the museum from Nachtrieb’s duties.

When Pillsbury Hall opened in 1889, it housed the departments of geology, botany, and zoology. In the following years, as need for additional laboratory and instruction spaces were needed, Nachtrieb advocated for a separate building for animal biology. Plans for the building and oversight of its construction were largely directed by Nachtrieb. The Animal Biology building (known later as Zoology) opened in September of 1916.

Nachtrieb assisted in founding a local chapter of Psi Upsilon fraternity; was a member of Sigma Xi, American Society of Zoologists, Anatomists and Naturalists, Association of American Museums; and was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In addition to his activities in the natural sciences, Nachtrieb established the University’s General Alumni Association and served as its first president from 1904 to 1916.

Henry Francis Nachtrieb died on July 17, 1942 in Berkeley, California.


3.75 Cubic Feet (7 boxes (1 Paige; 6 hollinger))

Language of Materials




Collection contains a scrapbook, field notebooks, photographs and general correspondence with colleagues, family and friends of Henry Francis Nachtrieb, professor of animal biology at the University of Minnesota.


The papers are arranged into the following series:

  1. Professional Papers
  2. Personal & Family Papers

Source of acquisition

Donated by Dwight E. Minnich, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Zoology, J.C. Underhill. Professor of Zoology, and others. Photographs of the Megalops houseboat and photo scrapbook of Margaret Nachtrieb Kelley were transferred to Archives from Department of Zoology records stored at the Bell Museum of Natural History (Church St. site) in 2017.

Related Materials

University of Minnesota Graduate School papers.

Bell Museum of Natural History papers.

Index to Subjects and Correspondents

  1. (1) Letter of January 21, 1915, A. W. Rankin to John E. Stout re the history of teaching zoology in Minnesota
  2. (2) Memo of the first meeting of zoological group at the University of Minnesota (general correspondence, March 4, 1916) re the unification of the Department of Animal Biology of S. L. A. and the Division of Economic Zoology of the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Home Economics (folder #26)
  3. (3) Washburn, F. L. correspondence, folder #37
  4. (4) General correspondence for 1919, January 2 in which C. E. McClung of the National Research Council speaks of zoological instruction and research during the First World War and April 21, 1919 re fellowships available through the National Research Council.

Processing Information

Digitization funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.

Henry Francis Nachtrieb papers, 1886-1929
Penelope Krosch; updated by Karen Spilman; updated by Rebecca Toov
April 1994; January 2005; August 2014; October 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • October 2019: Photographs and family scrapbook added

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area