The Father of ICOM

ICOM International Council of Museums which has retained its original English acronym for half a century, was the brainchild of an American, Chauncey J. Hamlin, President of the Trustees of the Science Museum in Buffalo. This is how Hamlin remembered the circumstances in which the adventure began: “In 1945, when I met Georges Salles, who was then Director of French museums, I suggested to him that we set up an International Council of Museums. He was immediately enthusiastic and agreed to sign a circular inviting the world’s most eminent museologists to an international meeting at the Louvre in November 1946. His backing helped me to secure the support of the Director of the British Museum in London.

Chauncey J. Hamlin, founder and first President of ICOM was born in 1881 in Buffalo (USA). In 1912, he campaigned for the presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt. Mobilised during the Great War he fought at Verdun (France). When he returned to the U.S., he was appointed Vice-President of the Buffalo Society of Natural Science and became its President in 1920 until 1948. His interest in museum activities led him to become President of The American Museum Association from 1923 to 1929.

Throughout his lifetime Hamlin had a keen interest in music (he was President of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society and Director of the town’s Philharmonic Society). Interestingly and coincidentally G.H. Rivière, who was to be his first collaborator at the head of ICOM, also had a well-known passion for music and was a gifted pianist. As President of ICOM, Hamlin devoted all his energy to building up a solid organisation capable of fostering international cooperation among museums worldwide.

Throughout his term of office, he travelled to Paris frequently. Hamlin’s pragmatism enabled him to secure recognition from UNESCO in the form of a cooperation agreement signed in 1947. ICOM subsequently received subsidies, opened a head office on Avenue Kleber in Paris, and a documentation centre, later to become the UNESCO-ICOM documentation centre.

The main task had been accomplished: ICOM was born.

Mr. Hamlin also happens to be the father American actor Harry Hamlin!