When you think of the Phoenix Zoo, do you think of the company Maytag? You know, the appliance company? If you don’t, you should. The Phoenix Zoo began in 1961 as the dream of Robert E. Maytag, grandson of the founder of the Maytag company. He gathered together a small group of friends, who formed the Arizona Zoological Society in April of 1961, with the goal of opening a zoo in Phoenix, Arizona.
Their dreams were big, but they faced many struggles. They were inexperienced, and with the unexpected death of Robert Maytag in March of 1926, it seemed their dream may not happen. Luckily, the community rallied around the idea, with news reporters, station managers and radio announcers promoting the zoo. Donations were received from all around, and in 1962 Nancy Maytag (Robert’s wife), cut the ribbon to the Maytag Zoo.
The name was changed the following year to the Phoenix Zoo to encourage community involvement, but the zoo was struggling already. Nancy Maytag eventually resigned, and Earl L. Bimson, a banker, stepped in and is given the credit of having saved the Phoenix Zoo, getting the zoo to a stable financial place by 1965.
Other early supporters of the zoo include Eugene and Nina Pulliam, owners of the Central Newspapers, Inc, which included the Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette. The Phoenix Zoo became a symbol of conservation, starting with Operation Oryx, on the world’s most successful wildlife conservation programs. Thanks to their program, the Arabian Oryx exist worldwide, paving the way for additional successful conservation initiatives led by the Phoenix Zoo, including programs focused on Black-footed ferrets, Chiricahua leopard frogs, narrow-headed garter snake, thick-billed parrots, and Mexican wolves.
The Phoenix Zoo continues to focus on educational programming, conservation, and providing an experience that will inspire and motivate visitors to care for the natural world around them.