Oakes Ames (1874-1950), was hired as an Instructor of Botany immediately after receiving his Master's degree from Harvard in 1900. Thus began a career at Harvard which lasted 50 years. In 1926 he became a full Professor of Botany and moved on to hold the positions of Arnold Professor of Botany and Research Professor of Botany, which he held until his retirement in 1941. Additional biographical information for Oakes Ames may be found in the finding aid of the Oakes Ames orchid manuscripts.
Ames's first contact with economic botany came when he took over as Director of the Botanical Garden in 1909. There he worked with his predecessor and former teacher, Professor Goodale, who was compiling materials to teach a course on the subject. Ames became interested and in 1909 taught the course "Outlines of Economic Botany". The course was successful and a lifelong interest was born.
Along with teaching, Ames began to collect a herbarium of wild and cultivated plants that man, both past and present, depended upon. Along with the Herbarium he collected plant products and a library of literature to help him, and his students, with his courses. This library, referred to by Ames as a "gentleman's library" comprised 16,000 volumes, pamphlets, theses, and reports when it was given to Harvard in 1941.The collection covered botanical, anthropological, geographical, pharmacological, chemical, and agricultural aspects of useful plants.
Today, the collection continues to grow. It specializes in materials related to economic botany or the commercial exploitation of plants. Subject areas cover ethnobotany, medicinal plants, hallucinogens and narcotics, crop plants, edible and poisonous plants, herbals and other rare pre-Linnean works, and Linneana.