Academy of Natural Sciences: From Science to War — Brooke Dolan II of The Academy of Natural Sciences
Scientific explorations have aided research, education and even military intelligence. The Academy of Natural Science has had a history of research and expedition since its founding in 1812. Today it houses over 17 million biological specimens. Some of these were acquired in the early years from the American Philosophical Society, some of them were purchased from private collections and other institutions, and some of them were personally gathered by Academy-sponsored experts. These sponsored professionals included paleontologists, ornithologists, and archaeologists, yet few were quite as adventurous as Brooke Dolan II (1908-1945).
Independently wealthy, Dolan was a trustee of the Academy of Natural Sciences. He studied at both Princeton and Harvard and was fond of exploration and hunting. In 1931, he accomplished his first expedition to Asia and Western China. He returned a couple of years later, again sponsored by the Academy. On that 1934-1936 expedition, Dolan collected over 3,000 birds and 140 mammals from Tibet and Western China. Some of these, such as the pandas, yaks, and wild asses, are on display today in the Academy’s dioramas.
His Academy sponsored travel made Dolan an expert in a region that was still considered mysterious and exotic by the West, such as Tibet. Tibet was vital to the different factions in World War II. In fact, one of Dolan’s fellow travelers from his 1934 expedition, Ernst Schäfer, later led his own military expedition from 1938-1939 for Nazi Germany.
Dolan was near fluent in Tibetan and Chinese languages, understood the workings of Buddhism, and was familiar with Tibetan life. This meant he was invaluable during the War. In 1942 he was recruited into OSS military intelligence. President F.D. Roosevelt sent him and Captain Ilya Tolstoy (grandson of the novelist) on a reconnaissance mission to Tibet and China. Their mission was both to find possible trade routes in the Himalayas and to gauge attitudes within the different regions. The mission’s code name was FE-2.
The trade routes were never established. The expedition did, however, form a base for U.S. relations with Tibet. The two explorers met with the Dalai Lama, only a child at the time, to give him gifts and a message from President Roosevelt.
After returning home, Dolan was transferred from the OSS to the U.S. Air Force. He returned to China once more to successfully gather intelligence before dying on duty in 1945. Through his will, he gave the Academy of Natural Sciences a library of Tibetan books and a large collection of specimens.
Today visitors can view his name on plaques and labels throughout the museum.
Hale, Christopher. Himmler’s Crusade. John Wiley & Sons, 2003.
Knauss, John Kenneth. Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival. Perseus Books Group, 1999.
Academy of Natural Sciences library archives online, http://www.ansp.org/library/archives/coll_001-099/coll0064.xml
Brooke Dolan II: Ewell Sale Stewart Library & Archives Coll. 457 (via ANSP)