James Ford Bell was an inveterate outdoorsman, an early conservationist, a lifelong scientist, and leading philanthropist. Mr. Bell was the driving force in the building and development of the Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, renamed posthumously in his honor in 1966. The James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History is dedicated to the gathering of information about the natural world and passing it on to others in an inspiring way.

Another manifestation of Mr. Bell's interest in natural history and conservation was his work at Delta Manitoba, beginning in 1931 with authority from the Canadian government to raise and release wild ducklings to more than offset annual hunting harvests. In 1938, after consultation with Aldo Leopold of the University of Wisconsin and the renowned Dr. William R. Rowan of the University of Alberta, James Ford Bell established the American Wildlife Foundation, now the Delta Waterfowl Foundation.

A devoted friend of the University of Minnesota, Mr. Bell served as a member of the Board of Regents from 1939 until his death in 1961. The James Ford Bell Library houses Mr. Bell's collection of rare books dedicated the history and impact of trade, containing fine manuscripts, books, and maps dating from the early 15th century. (At present, the Library's oldest item is dated ca. 400 CE: a merchant's itinerary from Cairo to Istanbul, written in Greek on papyrus [Bell 400].) Bell also had a strong interest in the arts, in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Significant among his gifts to the Institute of Arts are his collection of early American silver, including major pieces by Revere, the Charleston Rooms, given in memory of his parents, and many other fine works of art.

A gifted writer and diarist, Bell's personal papers and related materials are housed at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota, as well as in the University of Minnesota Archives. James Ford Bell died in 1961; the Bell family has continued the philanthropic work Mr. Bell began.