Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960) was an American naturalist, explorer, and author whose popular image was that of a romantic explorer in Asia.
Roy Chapman Andrews was born in Beloit, Wis., on Jan. 26, 1884. Fascinated by the natural wonders of southern Wisconsin, he chose his life's work at an early age. Immediately upon his graduation from Beloit College in 1906, he went to New York to seek employment at the American Museum of Natural History, volunteering to scrub floors when no other positions were available.
He assisted in the taxidermy department of the museum and soon received a field assignment to bring in the skeleton of a whale beached on Long Island. This initiated his scientific investigations of whales, and he was soon established as the world's leading whale authority. In his pursuit of these and other studies, Andrews traveled to Alaska, the East Indies, Japan, and Korea. He identified large "devilfish" off the Korean coast as the California gray whale, then considered an extinct species.
After 1915 Andrews concentrated on land explorations; his initial foray had been into the dense northern forests of Korea, but his dream was to test the theory of Henry Fairfield Osborn that central Asia was the home of primitive man and the source of much of the animal life of Europe and America. This work began in 1916 with a small zoological expedition to the periphery of the central Asian plateau in southwestern China and Burma. After a delay caused by World War I, during which Andrews served in Peking for the naval intelligence service, the youthful explorer returned to the United States to plan and finance his ambitious decade-long project. Andrews presented his project as a new type of exploration, a mammoth cooperative venture of various sciences, utilizing innovative techniques, including automobiles for desert exploration. He got the necessary financial support and set out in 1921.
He repeatedly led teams into the less-known portions of China, Borneo, and central Asia. He gained world fame because of his dramatic expeditions into the Gobi Desert, which led to the discovery of rich fossil fields, new geological strata, the first dinosaur eggs known to science, and skeleton parts of some of the largest and oldest known mammals, including the huge Baluchitherium and the tiny Protoceratops andrewsi. Political turmoil and another war stopped Andrews's Asian exploration in 1930. Two years later, after writing a full report of these expeditions, The New Conquest of Central Asia, he entered museum administration.
Andrews had taken a master's degree from Columbia University in 1913; he received honorary doctorates from Brown University in 1926 and Beloit College in 1928. He served as director of the American Museum of Natural History from 1935 to 1942, then devoted the rest of his life to writing and lecturing. A spellbinding lecturer and storyteller, he relished his popular image as a romantic explorer, but claimed that life was really more dangerous in American cities than in the Gobi Desert. He died in Carmel, Calif., on March 11, 1960.
The best sources on Andrews are his own voluminous writings, particularly his autobiographical works: This Business of Exploring (1935); Under a Lucky Star: A Lifetime of Adventure (1943); An Explorer Comes Home: Further Adventures of Roy Chapman Andrews (1947); and Beyond Adventure: The Lives of Three Explorers (1954). The secondary sources are meager. Fitzhugh Green, Roy Chapman Andrews, Dragon Hunter (1930), is the only biography. Henry Chester Tracy, American Naturists (1930), repeats Andrews's own writings. Geoffrey Hellman, Bankers, Bones and Beetles: The First Century of the American Museum of Natural History (1969), recounts Andrews's association with the museum.