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Passenger Pigeon Correspondence

Identifier: Ms-2011-082

Scope and Content

The collection consists of Ralph Brown's 1945 compilation of correspondence on passenger pigeons.

Brown was a Virginia Tech librarian working under the request of a professor A. L. Dean of the V. P. I. Agricultural extension division. The latter had made inquiries to ornithologists regarding "the possibility that the extermination of the passenger pigeon was caused by disease."

All the six ornithologists contacted disagreed with Dean's hypothesis. "Market hunting," not illness, they affirmed, brought about the end to the passenger pigeon.

More specifically, Dr. S. C. Bishop of the University of Rochester wrote that "so far as [he] is concerned, there [was] no particular mystery about the end of the Passenger Pigeon. It was slaughtered by the millions." John T. Zimmer and A. C. Bent who represent the American Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian Institution, respectively, also agreed. Nonetheless, Bent offers some hope to the initial theory by noting that "there may have been some disease or weakening from in-breeding, which brought about the end." Similarly the Smithsonian's Dr. A. Wetmore and Virginia's J. J. Murray provide Dean with some additional readings on ornithological history.

Brown sent the compilation, upon completion, to Dr. W. A. Murrell of the University of Florida.


  • 1945


Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Biographical Note

Ralph Minthorne Brown, head librarian of Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) from 1926 to 1947, was born at Fort Shaw, Montana, in 1878. He graduated from Cornell University in 1901 and served as a librarian in Chicago and Buffalo, New York before becoming chief of the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey's Division of Library and Archives in 1906. He remained in that position until serving as an ambulance driver in World War I. After the war, Brown worked as an editor for Rand McNally, then for Popular Mechanics , and finally as a librarian at North Dakota State College before arriving at Virginia Tech in 1926.

When not working, Brown indulged in his many personal interests, including poetry and genealogy; he was also an avid book collector, amateur historian and naturalist. During his time in Blacksburg, Brown actively collected and recorded the history of both Virginia Tech and the New River Valley, his chief accomplishment here perhaps being the compilation of V.P.I. Historical Index, 1872-1942 . Other projects included legislative histories of both the school and Blacksburg as well as a bibliography of Matthew Fontaine Maury. Brown's interest in nature led him to keep and compile notes on local ornithological and weather observations. He frequently presented talks on these and other subjects to campus and community groups.

Brown retired from Virginia Tech in 1947 and died in Tulsa, Oklahoma on November 30, 1958, survived by one daughter.


0.1 Cubic Feet (1 folder)


The collection consists of Virginia Tech librarian Ralph Brown's 1945 compilation of correspondence on passenger pigeons.


The collection is arranged by material type.

Source of Acquisition

The collection was transferred to Special Collections in July 2011.

Related Archival Materials

See the following materials, which are also at Virginia Tech Special Collections and University Archives:

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the Passenger Pigeon Correspondence by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement, and description of the Passenger Pigeon Correspondence was completed in September 2011.

Passenger Pigeon Correspondence, 1945
Andrea Ledesma, Student Assistant, and Kira A. Dietz, Archivist
2011 (CC0 1.0)
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US