Friday, March 15th, 2013...9:30 am

Auspicious Debuts: Birdwatching with a future president

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Photograph of Theodore Roosevelt, ca. 1877. TRC 520.11-011Theodore Roosevelt is perhaps the most prolific American president, having published over forty books and numerous articles during his life. His very first publication was significantly less august than his later writings: a four-page pamphlet titled The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, N.Y., co-written with his friend Hal Minot and published in 1877, when Roosevelt was nineteen years old.

Despite (or perhaps encouraged by) his love of hunting, Roosevelt was an avid naturalist. As a child, he kept notebooks detailing his observations of the wildlife surrounding him. He was not always just a passive observer of nature; on a family trip to Egypt when he was fourteen he shot hundreds of birds and stuffed many of them with his own taxidermy kit. When he entered Harvard in 1876, he intended to study zoology.

Theodore Roosevelt. Sketch of a Bird, [1870s?]. MS Am 1541 (288)

In the summer between their freshman and sophomore years, Roosevelt and fellow Harvard student Hal Minot camped in the Adirondacks for several weeks, observing the wildlife and taking notes for their list. (TR’s journal from the trip can be viewed online) Approximately one hundred copies of the resulting pamphlet were printed and issued both for sale and for private distribution by its authors. It received favorable reviews in ornithological journals, and established Roosevelt as a promising young naturalist.

Aside from its importance as the first publication by the future president, the pamphlet is also the first scientific study of bird life in the Adirondacks.

Theodore Roosevelt. Birds of the Adirondacks (1877) p.1. Roosevelt R020.1.R67s5. Presented by the Roosevelt Memorial Association, 1943.

This post is part of a series called “Auspicious Debuts.” Houghton staff members will feature “firsts” from the Library’s collections ranging from first editions and first appearances in print and on stage to novelties, innovations, and the unprecedented. All posts associated with this series may be viewed by clicking on the AuspiciousDebuts tag.

[Thanks to Heather Cole, Assistant Curator of Modern Books & Manuscripts & Curator of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, for contributing this post.]

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