Ralph Hoffmann

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Ralph Hoffmann
Born (1870-11-30)November 30, 1870
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, United States
Died July 21, 1932(1932-07-21) (aged 61)
San Miguel Island, California, United States
Occupation Natural history teacher, author, ornithologist, botanist
Notable works A Guide to the Birds of New England and Eastern New York (1904); Birds of the Pacific States (1927)
Spouse Eliza Gertrude Wesselhoeft (1871-1968); married 1894 to his death (3 children).
Children Eleanor Hoffmann (1895-1990)
Walter Wesselhoeft Hoffmann (1897-1977)
Gertrude "Trude" Hoffmann (1904-2008)

Ralph Hoffmann (November 30, 1870 – July 21, 1932) was an American natural history teacher, amateur ornithologist, and botanist. He was the author of the first true bird field guide.

Early life[edit]

Ralph Hoffmann was born on November 30, 1870, at Stockbridge, Massachusetts,[1] the second of five children raised by Ferdinand and Caroline Hoffmann.[2] Ferdinand Hoffmann (1827–1906) was born in Germany, the son of a surgeon who had served in Napoleon's army.[3] He came to America in the late 1840s where, with the assistance of educator Jared Reid, he founded the Berkshire Family School for Boys (also known as the Edward Place School for Boys) in 1855.[4] Jared Reid is additionally known for being the father of painter Robert Reid.[3] In 1868, three years after the death of his first wife, Elizabeth J. Hoffmann, Ferdinand married Caroline Bullard (1846–1908), the daughter of a Massachusetts' clergyman.[5][6] Ralph Hoffmann would go on to attend Harvard University and graduate with the class of 1890.[7]


Hoffmann began teaching at Buckingham Browne and Nichols in 1891. A few years later he helped to establish the Alstead School of Natural History in Alstead, New Hampshire where for a time he would spend his summer breaks from BB&N teaching. In 1910 he was chosen to be the first head of the Country Day School in Kansas City.[8] Nine years later he relocated to Santa Barbara to teach natural history at the Cate School for Boys. There he became a mentor to the American botanist G. Ledyard Stebbins.[9] In 1925 Hoffmann was named to succeed William Leon Dawson as director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.[10]

In 1901 Hoffmann published with Ernest Thompson Seton Bird Portraits and in 1904 released A Guide to the Birds of New England and Eastern New York, a work that focused on field marks, behavior, habitat, call notes and songs in order to facilitate bird identification in the field. In 1922 he published a monograph on the flora of Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and in 1927 Birds of the Pacific States.


On June 23, 1894, Hoffmann married at Cambridge, Massachusetts, Eliza Gertrude Wesselhoeft, the daughter of a prominent German-American doctor. Over the following ten years the couple became the parents of two daughters and a son.[12] After her husband’s death in 1932, Gertrude turned to acting and began what would become a 30-year career as a character actor in Hollywood.[13]


On July 21, 1932, Hoffmann joined a group of scientists on an expedition to California's Channel Islands to explore San Miguel Island for fossil remains of the prehistoric pygmy mammoth. Later in the day he separated from his party to search for specimens of a rare flower on the island’s rocky cliffs. After he failed to return the group searched the foggy island for some eight hours before finding his body at the base of a steep cliff. The handle on his climbing trowel had broken, apparently causing his fatal fall.[14][15]


  1. ^ US Passport Application (Ralph Hoffmann) October 14, 1907
  2. ^ 1880-1900 US Census Records
  3. ^ a b Boston Evening Transcript - Google News Archive - Jul 30, 1906
  4. ^ The New York Times - March 27, 1855
  5. ^ 1850, 1860, 1880 & 1900 US Census Records
  6. ^ The New York Times November 14, 1908
  7. ^ The Handbook of Private Schools: Volume 1 – 1915
  8. ^ The Handbook of private schools: Volume 1 -1915
  9. ^ Colloquium on Variation and Evolution in Plants and Microorganisms - Toward a New Synthesis : 50 Years After Stebbins -By Michael I. Chegg.
  10. ^ North Adams Transcript – July 23, 1932.
  11. ^ IPNI.  Ralph Hoffm. 
  12. ^ Anniversary report, Volumes 3-4 By Harvard College (1780- ). Class of 1890.
  13. ^ IMDb.com
  14. ^ North Adams Transcript –July 23, 1932
  15. ^ The Nevada State Journal – July 23, 1932

External links[edit]