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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had been presenting an annual award for excellence in motion pictures for only two years when Margaret Herrick began her first day as librarian at the Academy in 1931. The award had been known only as "the statuette," note editors of Merriam-Webster, Inc.

On seeing an award on the desk of an executive, Herrick remarked, "He reminds me of my Uncle Oscar," referring to Oscar Pierce, a Texas fruit and wheat grower (who in reality was her mother's first cousin). A columnist overheard her remark and reported the next day, "Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette `Oscar.'"