The hall was the brainchild of Frank Chapman, the visionary chairman of the museum’s Department of Ornithology, and Leonard C. Sanford, a deep-pocketed New Haven surgeon with an ornithology habit. Chapman arrived at the museum as a volunteer in 1887 and didn’t retire until 1942, at age 78. He more or less acquired Sanford along the way: in 1912, Chapman convinced him to store his personal collection of bird skins at the museum and installed him in an office next to Chapman’s as an unofficial member of the staff.
It was a shrewd, if unconventional, move. Sanford was well-connected, ambitious, persuasive, and competitive, especially with his friends at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. Robert Cushman Murphy, who came to the museum as a young man in 1912 and later chaired the department after Chapman retired, noted that Sanford “particularly enjoyed possessing things which the other fellow did not have, and partly because the other fellow did not have them.”