Henry Fairfield Osborn

Henry Fairfield Osborn, Sr. ForMemRS[1] (August 8, 1857 – November 6, 1935) was an American paleontologist and geologist. He was the president of the American Museum of Natural History for 25 years.

Henry Fairfield Osborn

H. F. Osborn
Photo from 1919
BornAugust 8, 1857
DiedNovember 6, 1935 (aged 78)
Alma materPrinceton University
ChildrenHenry Fairfield Osborn, Jr.
Scientific career
InstitutionsAmerican Museum of Natural History
Doctoral studentsWilliam King Gregory

Early life and career

Henry Fairfield Osborn
Osborn in 1890

Son of the prominent railroad tycoon William Henry Osborn and his wife, Virginia Reed Osborn, Henry Fairfield Osborn was born in Fairfield, Connecticut, 1857. He studied at Princeton University (1873–1877), obtaining a B.A. in geology and archaeology, where he was mentored by paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope. Two years later, Osborn took a special course of study in anatomy in the College of Physicians and Surgeons and Bellevue Medical School of New York under Dr. William H. Welch, and subsequently studied embryology and comparative anatomy under Thomas Huxley as well as Francis Maitland Balfour at Cambridge University, England.[2][3] In 1880, Osborn obtained a Sc.D. in paleontology from Princeton, becoming a lecturer in Biology and Professor of Comparative Anatomy from the same university (1883–1890). In 1891, Osborn was hired by Columbia University as a professor of zoology; simultaneously, he accepted a position at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, where he served as the curator of a newly formed Department of Vertebrate Paleontology. As a curator, he assembled a remarkable team of fossil hunters and preparators, including William King Gregory; Roy Chapman Andrews, a possible inspiration for the creation of the fictional archeologist Indiana Jones; and Charles R. Knight, who made murals of dinosaurs in their habitats and sculptures of the living creatures. On November 23, 1897 he was elected member of the Boone and Crockett Club, a wildlife conservation organization founded by Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell.[4] Thanks to his considerable family wealth and personal connections, he succeeded Morris K. Jesup as the president of the museum's Board of Trustees in 1908, serving until 1933, during which time he accumulated one of the finest fossil collections in the world.[5] Additionally, Osborn served as President of the New York Zoological Society from 1909 to 1925.

PSM V66 D014 Officers of the paleontology section of the st louis congress
Osborn (third from the right) with other officers of the paleontology section of the St Louis Congress

Long a member of the US Geological Survey, Osborn became its senior vertebrate paleontologist in 1924. He led many fossil-hunting expeditions into the American Southwest, starting with his first to Colorado and Wyoming in 1877. Osborn conducted research on Tyrannosaurus brains by cutting open fossilized braincases with a diamond saw.[6] (Modern researchers use computed tomography scans and 3D reconstruction software to visualize the interior of dinosaur endocrania without damaging valuable specimens.)[7] He accumulated a number of prizes for his work in paleontology. In 1901, Osborn was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[8] He described and named Ornitholestes in 1903, Tyrannosaurus rex in 1905, Pentaceratops in 1923, and Velociraptor in 1924. In 1929 Osborn was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.[9] Despite his considerable scientific stature during the 1900s and 1910s, Osborn's scientific achievements have not held up well, for they were undermined by continuous efforts to bend scientific findings to fit his own racist and eugenist viewpoints.

His legacy at the American Museum has proved more enduring. Biographer Ronald Rainger has described Osborn as "a first-rate science administrator and a third-rate scientist."[10] Indeed, Osborn's greatest contributions to science ultimately lay in his efforts to popularize it through visual means. At his urging, staff members at the American Museum of Natural History invested new energy in display, and the museum became one of the pre-eminent sites for exhibition in the early twentieth century as a result. The murals, habitat dioramas, and dinosaur mounts executed during his tenure at the museum attracted millions of visitors, and inspired other museums to imitate his innovations.[11] But his decision to invest heavily in exhibition also alienated certain members of the scientific community and angered curators hoping to spend more time on their own research.[12] Additionally, his efforts to imbue the museum's exhibits and educational programs with his own racist and eugenist beliefs disturbed many of his contemporaries and have marred his legacy.[13]


An African dwarf crocodile, Osteolaemus osborni, was named in his honor by Karl Patterson Schmidt in 1919.[14]


Dawn Man Theory

Osborn developed his own evolution theory of man's origins called the "Dawn Man Theory". His theory was founded on the discovery of Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus) which was dated to the Late (Upper) Pliocene. Writing before Piltdown was exposed as a hoax, the Eoanthropus or "Dawn Man" Osborn maintained sprang from a common ancestor with the ape during the Oligocene period which he believed developed entirely separately during the Miocene (16 million years ago). Therefore, Osborn argued that all apes (Simia) following the pre-Darwinian classification of Linnaeus had evolved entirely parallel to the ancestors of man (homo).[15][16][17][18] Osborn himself wrote:

We have all borne with the ape and monkey and ape hypothesis long enough are we are glad to welcome this new idea of the aristocracy of man back to a even remote period than the beginning of the stone age.[19]

While believing in common ancestry between man and ape, Osborn denied that this ancestor was ape-like. The common ancestor between man and ape Osborn always maintained was more Human than ape. Writing to Arthur Keith in 1927, he remarked "when our Oligocene ancestor is found it will not be an ape, but it will be surprisingly pro-human".[20] His student William K. Gregory called Osborn's idiosyncratic view on man's origins as a form of "Parallel Evolution" but many creationists misinterpreted Osborn, greatly frustrating him, and believed he was asserting man had never evolved from a lower life form.[21]

Evolutionary views

Osborn was originally a supporter of Edward Drinker Cope's neo-Lamarckism, however, he later abandoned this view. Osborn became a proponent of organic selection, also known as the Baldwin effect.[22]

Osborn was a believer in orthogenesis, he coined the term aristogenesis for his theory. His aristogenesis was based on a "physicochemical approach" to evolution.[22] He believed that aristogenes operate as biomechanisms in the geneplasm of the organism. He also held the view that mutations and natural selection play no creative role in evolution and that aristogenesis was the origin of new novelty.[23]

Published books


  1. ^ Woodward, A. S. (1936). "Henry Fairfield Osborn. 1857-1935". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 2 (5): 66–71. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1936.0006.
  2. ^ "After Twenty Years:The Record of the Class of 1877", Princeton University, 1877–1897, p. 72. Trenton, N. J. 189.
  3. ^ "Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857–1935)", Hervey W. Shimer, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 72, No. 10, May, 1938, pp. 377–379.
  4. ^ "Archives of the Boone and Crockett Club".
  5. ^ Biographical Memoir of Henry Fairfield Osborn, 1857-1935 by William K. Gregory
  6. ^ "Introduction," in Larsson (2001). Pg. 20.
  7. ^ "Abstract," in Larsson (2001). Pg. 19.
  8. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter O" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  9. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  10. ^ See Ronald Rainger, An Agenda for Antiquity: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890–1935 (Tuscaloose, AB: University of Alabama, 1991).
  11. ^ On the American Museum's habitat dioramas, see http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/dioramas/; Karen Wonders. Habitat Dioramas, (Figura Nova Series 25: Acta Universitatis Uppsaliensis, 1993).
  12. ^ Victoria Cain, "The Art of Authority: Exhibits, Exhibit Makers and the Contest for Scientific Status at the American Museum of Natural History, 1920–1940." Science in Context 24, no. 2 (2011).
  13. ^ Donna Haraway, "Teddy Bear Patriarchy," Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science. (New York: Routledge, 1989). Also see Constance Clark, God – or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) and Victoria Cain, "The Direct Medium of the Vision": Visual Education, Virtual Witnessing and the Prehistoric Past at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890–1923." Journal of Visual Culture vol. 10, no. 3 (2010).
  14. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Osborn", p. 196).
  15. ^ "Recent Discoveries Relating to the Origin and Antiquity of Man", Henry Fairfield Osborn, Science, New Series, Vol. 65, No. 1690, May 20, 1927, pp. 481–488.
  16. ^ "Man was Never an Ape", Popular Science, 1927, Aug 1927, Vol. 111, No. 2, p. 35.
  17. ^ "The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey: Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans", Christopher Beard, University of California Press, 2006.
  18. ^ "Human evolution: an illustrated introduction", Roger Lewin, Wiley-Blackwell, 2005, p. 15.
  19. ^ Bones of contention, Roger Lewin, University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 56-57.
  20. ^ Lewin, 1997, p. 56.
  21. ^ Lewin, 1997, p. 57.
  22. ^ a b Levit, Georgy S; Olsson, Lennart. (2007). Evolution on Rails Mechanisms and Levels of Orthogenesis. In Volker Wissemann. Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology 11/2006. Universitätsverlag Göttingen. pp. 107-108.
  23. ^ Regal, Brian. (2002). Henry Fairfield Osborn: Race, and the Search for the Origins of Man. Ashgate. pp. 184-192. ISBN 978-0-7546-0587-4

Works cited

  • Angell, JR (1942). "Unveiling of the Bust of Henry Fairfield Osborn at the American Museum of Natural History". Science. 95 (2471) (published May 8, 1942). pp. 471–472. doi:10.1126/science.95.2471.471. PMID 17789121
  • Gregory, WK (1942). "Unveiling of the Bust of Henry Fairfield Osborn at the American Museum of Natural History". Science. 95 (2471) (published May 8, 1942). pp. 470–471. Bibcode:1942Sci....95..470G. doi:10.1126/science.95.2471.470. PMID 17789120
  • Larsson, H.C.E., 2001. Endocranial Anatomy of Carcharodontosaurus saharicus. In D.H. Tanke & K. Carpenter (eds.), Mesozoic Vertebrate Life: pp. 19–33.
  • Rainger, R (1980). "The Henry Fairfield Osborn Papers at the American Museum of Natural History". The Mendel newsletter; archival resources for the history of genetics & allied sciences (18) (published Jun 1980). pp. 8–13. PMID 11615816

Further reading

  • Rainger, Ronald (2004). An Agenda for Antiquity: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890-1935. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0817350796.
  • Regal, Brian (2002). Henry Fairfield Osborn: Race, and the Search for the Origins of Man. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-0587-4.
  • Robertson, Thomas, "Total War and the Total Environment: Fairfield Osborn, William Vogt, and the Birth of Global Ecology," Environmental History, 17 (April 2012), 336–64.
  • Spiro, Jonathan P. (2009). Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant. University of Vermont Press. ISBN 978-1-58465-715-6. (Madison Grant was a friend and collaborator of Osborn)
  • National Academy of Sciences: Biographical Memoir of Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857 - 1935), by William K. Gregory, 1937

External links

1905 in paleontology

Paleontology or palaeontology is the study of prehistoric life forms on Earth through the examination of plant and animal fossils. This includes the study of body fossils, tracks (ichnites), burrows, cast-off parts, fossilised feces (coprolites), palynomorphs and chemical residues. Because humans have encountered fossils for millennia, paleontology has a long history both before and after becoming formalized as a science. This article records significant discoveries and events related to paleontology that occurred or were published in the year 1905.

1924 in paleontology

Paleontology or palaeontology is the study of prehistoric life forms on Earth through the examination of plant and animal fossils. This includes the study of body fossils, tracks (ichnites), burrows, cast-off parts, fossilised feces (coprolites), palynomorphs and chemical residues. Because humans have encountered fossils for millennia, paleontology has a long history both before and after becoming formalized as a science. This article records significant discoveries and events related to paleontology that occurred or were published in the year 1924.


Andrewsarchus () is an extinct genus of mammal that lived during the middle Eocene epoch in what is now Inner Mongolia, China. Only one species is usually recognized, A. mongoliensis, known from a single skull of great size discovered in 1923 during the expeditions to central Asia by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Generally classified as a mesonychid since its original description, most recent studies classify it as an artiodactyl, in one study specifically, as a member of the clade Cetancodontamorpha, closely related to entelodonts, hippos and whales.


Ankylosauria is a group of mainly herbivorous dinosaurs of the order Ornithischia. It includes the great majority of dinosaurs with armor in the form of bony osteoderms. Ankylosaurs were bulky quadrupeds, with short, powerful limbs. They are known to have first appeared in the early Jurassic Period, and persisted until the end of the Cretaceous Period. They have been found on every continent. The first dinosaur discovered in Antarctica was the ankylosaurian Antarctopelta, fossils of which were recovered from Ross Island in 1986.

Ankylosauria was first named by Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1923. In the Linnaean classification system, the group is usually considered either a suborder or an infraorder. It is contained within the group Thyreophora, which also includes the stegosaurs, armored dinosaurs known for their combination of plates and spikes.


The genus Apidium (from Latin, a diminutive of the Egyptian bull god, Apis, as the first fossils were thought to be from a type of a cow) is that of at least three extinct primates living from the late Eocene to the early Oligocene, roughly 30 million years ago. Apidium fossils are common in the Fayoum deposits of Egypt. Fossils of the earlier species, Apidium moustafai, are rare; fossils of the later species Apidium phiomense are fairly common.

Apidium and its fellow members of the Parapithecidae family are stem anthropoids that possess all the hallmarks of modern Anthropoidea. Their ancestry is closely tied to the Eocene Asian group Eosimiidae.


Asiatosaurus (meaning "Asian lizard") was a genus of herbivorous sauropod dinosaur which lived during the early Cretaceous. Its fossils have been found in China and Mongolia. Its type species is known only from teeth, making it difficult to rely on information until more specimens are found to expand our knowledge. The type species, Asiatosaurus mongoliensis, was described by Osborn, in 1924. It was the first sauropod genus named from East-Asia.

Asiatosaurus kwangshiensis was described by Hou, Yeh and Zhao, in 1975 based on a tooth, three cervical vertebrae and multiple ribs from the Xinlong Formation of Guangxi, China. The genus was classified within Brachiosauridae by Hou et al.. Both are now classified as nomina dubia.


Embolotherium (Greek εμβωλή, embolê + θήριον, thêrion "battering ram beast", or "wedge beast") is an extinct genus of brontothere that lived in Mongolia during the late Eocene epoch. It is most easily recognized by a large bony protuberance emanating from the anterior (front) of the skull. This resembles a battering ram, hence the name Embolotherium. The animal is known from about 12 skulls, several jaws, and a variety of other skeletal elements from the Ulan Gochu formation of Inner Mongolia and the Irgilin Dzo of Outer Mongolia.

Henry Fairfield Osborn Jr.

Henry Fairfield Osborn Jr. (15 January 1887 – 16 September 1969), son of the American geologist Henry Fairfield Osborn and cousin of Frederick Osborn, was a conservationist. He was longtime president of the New York Zoological Society (today known as the Wildlife Conservation Society).

Henry Osborn

Henry Osborn may refer to:

Henry Osborn (Royal Navy officer) (1694–1771), admiral, governor of Newfoundland, and Member of Parliament

Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857–1935), American geologist, paleontologist, and eugenicist

Henry Fairfield Osborn Jr. (1887–1969), son of the above, naturalist and conservationist

Henry Osborn (politician) (1859–1937), Australian politician

Henry Osborn (cricketer) (1823–?), English cricketer

Isthmus of Panama

The Isthmus of Panama (Spanish: Istmo de Panamá), also historically known as the Isthmus of Darien (Istmo de Darién), is the narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, linking North and South America. It contains the country of Panama and the Panama Canal. Like many isthmuses, it is a location of great strategic value.

The isthmus formed around 2.8 million years ago, separating the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and causing the creation of the Gulf Stream. This was first suggested in 1910 by North American paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn. He based the proposal on the fossil record of mammals in Central America. This conclusion provided a foundation for Alfred Wegener when he proposed the theory of continental drift in 1912.


Leptotragulus is an extinct genus of protoceratid, endemic to North America. It lived during the Middle Eocene epoch (Uintan to Chadronian stage) 40.2—33.9 Ma, existing for approximately 6 million years.Leptotragulus resembled deer. However, they were more closely related to camelids. In addition to having horns in the more usual place, protoceratids had additional, rostral horns above the orbital cavity.


Ornitholestes (meaning "bird robber") is a small theropod dinosaur of the late Jurassic (Brushy Basin Member of the Morrison Formation, middle Kimmeridgian age, about 154 million years ago) of Western Laurasia (the area that was to become North America).

To date, Ornitholestes is known only from a single partial skeleton with a badly crushed skull found at the Bone Cabin Quarry near Medicine Bow, Wyoming, in 1900. It was described by Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1903. An incomplete hand was later attributed to Ornitholestes, although it now appears to belong to Tanycolagreus. The type (and only known) species is O. hermanni. The specific name honors the American Museum of Natural History preparator Adam Hermann.


Oviraptor is a genus of small Mongolian theropod dinosaurs, first discovered by technician George Olsen in an expedition led by Roy Chapman Andrews, and first described by Henry Fairfield Osborn, in 1924. Its name is Latin for 'egg taker' or "egg seizer", referring to the fact that the first fossil specimen was discovered atop a pile of what was thought to be Protoceratops eggs, and the specific name philoceratops means "lover of ceratopsians", also given as a result of this find. In his 1924 paper, Osborn explained that the name was given due to the close proximity of the skull of Oviraptor to the nest (it was separated from the eggs by only 4 inches or 10 centimetres of sand). However, Osborn also suggested that the name Oviraptor "may entirely mislead us as to its feeding habits and belie its character". In the 1990s, the discovery of nesting oviraptorids like Citipati proved that Osborn was correct in his caution regarding the name. These finds showed that the eggs in question probably belonged to Oviraptor itself and that the specimen was actually brooding its eggs when it died at the nest.

Oviraptor lived in the late Cretaceous period, during the late Campanian stage about 75 million years ago; only one definitive specimen is known (with associated eggs), from the Djadokhta Formation of Mongolia, though a possible second specimen (also with eggs) comes from the northeast region of Inner Mongolia, China, in an area called Bayan Mandahu.


Pentaceratops ("five-horned face") is a genus of herbivorous ceratopsid dinosaur from the late Cretaceous Period of what is now North America.

Pentaceratops fossils were first discovered in 1921. The genus was named in 1923 when its type species Pentaceratops sternbergii was described. Pentaceratops lived around 76–73 million years ago, its remains having been mostly found in the Kirtland Formation in the San Juan Basin in New Mexico. About a dozen skulls and skeletons have been uncovered, so anatomical understanding of Pentasaurus is fairly complete. One exceptionally large specimen later became its own genus, Titanoceratops, due to its more derived morphology, similarities to Triceratops, and lack of unique characteristics shared with Pentaceratops.Pentaceratops was about 6 meters (20 feet) long, and has been estimated to have weighed around five tonnes. It had a short nose horn, two long brow horns, and long horns on the jugal bones. Its skull had a very long frill with triangular hornlets on the edge.


Pliohyrax, a genus believed extinct since the Pliocene, is one of the larger hyracoids (the cavy-like group of animals most closely related to elephants and manatees). It grew to sizes greatly exceeding those of any living hyrax, though it was by no means the largest member of this family.

Fossils of this Miocene, scansorial herbivore have been found in Afghanistan, France, and Turkey.

In Spain, Pliohyrax graecus is among the large mammals species found in the Almenara site, deposited during the Messinian salinity crisis, together with Macaca sp., Bovidae indet., cf. Nyctereutes sp., and Felidae indet.


Prodeinodon (meaning "Before Deinodon") is a dubious genus of theropod dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous (Barremian to Aptian stages) of China and Mongolia. Three species have been identified, all three known only from tooth fragments showing no diagnostic features, making them difficult to classify, though they may belong to a carnosaur.

The type species, P. mongoliensis, was described by Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1924. A second species, P. kwangshiensis, was named in 1975. "P. tibetensis" has not been formally described.


Saurornithoides ( saw-ROR-ni-THOY-deez) is a genus of troodontid maniraptoran dinosaur, which lived during the Late Cretaceous period. These creatures were predators, which could run fast on their hind legs and had excellent sight and hearing. The name is derived from the Greek stems saur~ (lizard), ornith~ (bird) and eides (form), referring to its bird-like skull.


Struthiomimus (meaning "ostrich mimic", from the Greek στρούθειος/stroutheios meaning "of the ostrich" and μῖμος/mimos meaning "mimic" or "imitator") is a genus of ornithomimid dinosaurs from the late Cretaceous of North America. Ornithomimids were long-legged, bipedal, ostrich-like dinosaurs with toothless beaks. The type species, Struthiomimus altus, is one of the more common small dinosaurs found in Dinosaur Provincial Park; its abundance suggests that these animals were herbivores or omnivores rather than pure carnivores.


The Xerinae comprise a subfamily of squirrels, many of which are highly terrestrial. It includes the tribes Marmotini (marmots, chipmunks, prairie dogs, and other Holarctic ground squirrels), Xerini (African and some Eurasian ground squirrels), and Protoxerini (African tree squirrels).


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